ISTANBUL (AFP) - Tens of thousands of supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday massed in Istanbul for his last big rally in Turkey’s largest city one week ahead of presidential elections.
Mr Erdogan is widely expected to win the elections to become modern Turkey’s 12th president and staged a suitably presidential-style mass rally in the Istanbul suburb of Maltepe.
Brandishing Erdogan flags with his election slogan “national will, national power” and wearing Erdogan baseball caps, tens of thousands of people crammed into a vast outdoor sports complex.
A sea of people packed tightly together in the humid summer temperatures greeted Mr Erdogan, who in his usual style prowled around the stage with a microphone and roused supporters with his earthy rhetoric.
“It will perhaps be our last rally in Istanbul. But I am not saying farewell to Istanbul, to you,” he shouted, his voice hoarse from campaigning.
“God willing, it is my will to be buried in this city. I am here not as the prime minister, not as the presidential candidate, but as Erdogan from Kasimpasa,” he said, referring to the run-down Istanbul district where he spent his youth.
Mr Erdogan added: “We have come here not to be a master of the nation, but to serve this nation.
“In this political struggle, we have never said ‘I’, we have always said ‘us’. I am burning with the love of this nation,” he said.
Mr Erdogan attacked his main rival, the former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsangolu, and promised a “new Turkey” should he win the elections on Aug 10.
“He is calling himself the professor,” he said of Mr Ihsanoglu, a mild-mannered academic.
“He can speak three languages. Are you looking for a translator? If we were looking for one, there are several people who can speak at least five languages! I can do this job with my own translator,” Mr Erdogan sneered.
Mr Erdogan, a seasoned political campaigner who has been premier since 2003, added: “This individual (Ihsanoglu) doesn’t know anything about politics.”
Many of his supporters carried Palestinian flags to back Mr Erdogan’s angry denunciations of the Israeli campaign in the Gaza strip.
At one point he touched the hands of a supporter who was being taken away on a stretcher after fainting.
One of the chief intrigues in the election will be whether Mr Erdogan is forced into a second round run-off on Aug 24.
Crucial in this could be the performance of the third candidate Selahattin Dermirtas, backed by a pro-Kurdish party, who held his own election rally in Istanbul just hours before Mr Erdogan.