Turkish ruling party angers archaeologists by nailing giant election banner into ancient aqueduct

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has outraged archaeologists by nailing a giant election banner over an ancient Istanbul aqueduct that is one of the city's most famed landmarks.

The banner showing the face of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the light-bulb insignia of the ruling AKP, has been nailed into the Aqueduct of Valens, which was completed by the Roman Emperor Valens in the fourth century AD.

The AKP is conducting an all-out campaign ahead of June 7 legislative elections and billboards with Mr Davutoglu's face and election slogans are visible on almost every street in Istanbul.

The banner on the aqueduct proclaims some of the party's main election slogans: "Together More Powerful" and "Turkey's Decision. A Continuation of Growth." But some said the party had gone too far by attaching the giant banner across the length of one of Istanbul's most recognisable landmarks.

The Istanbul branch of Turkey's Association of Archaeologists said in a statement that the banner was causing physical damage to the monument.

"The banner not only causes physical damage to the structure but also covers up an important part of the city's cultural heritage and has a negative affect on the perception of cultural assets," it said in a statement quoted by Turkish media.

"Moreover, it turns the Valens Aqueduct - which is public and has a universal value like all cultural assets - into a propaganda tool."

The pro-opposition Diken news site played on the AKP's main election slogan "They talk but the AKP acts." "They talk but the AKP acts - and nailed a giant banner into the 1,637 years old Valens Aqueduct!" it said.

The arched structure, some 30m high, was part of a hugely sophisticated system set up by the Romans to supply water to the city of Constantinople that was later also used by the Byzantines and later the Ottomans.

It has withstood the ravages of conflict and time to remain standing until this day and today straddles Istanbul's Ataturk Bulvar road, used by thousands of travellers every day on their way to the airport.

The AKP, led for over a decade by former premier and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faces a tougher test than in previous polls under Davutoglu's leadership.

Most commentators expect that its share of the vote will fall considerably from the score of almost 50 per cent from the last polls in 2011 and the party may even need to form a coalition government.