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Turkey’s main opposition candidate accuses Russia of election interference

<i>Burak Kara/Getty Images/File</i><br/>Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu
Getty Images
Burak Kara/Getty Images/File
Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu

By Mostafa Salem, Anna Chernova and Isil Sariyuce, CNN

Turkey’s main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has accused Russia of interfering in the country’s ongoing presidential election campaign.

“Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, deep fake content and tapes that were exposed in this country yesterday,” he said in a tweet posted Thursday.

“If you want the continuation of our friendship after May 15, get your hands off the Turkish state,” Kilicdaroglu said. Voters go to the polls Sunday in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary election.

Kilicdaroglu, who is the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and is incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main rival, addressed Russia in the tweet, saying “we are still in favor of cooperation and friendship.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the accusation in a Friday briefing, calling those who spread such rumors “liars.”

“Russia does not interfere in the internal affairs and electoral processes of other countries,” Peskov said.

Polls suggest a tight race between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, but give Kilicdaroglu a slight lead.

If no candidate wins a majority in the first round of elections on May 14, the country will hold a second round on May 28.

Turkey, a NATO member which has the alliance’s second-largest army, has strengthened its ties with Russia and in 2019 even bought weapons from it in defiance of the United States.

While many NATO members and other Western nations sought to reduce their reliance on Russian energy after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, Turkey instead extended its dependence on Russia.

The strengthening ties between Erdogan and Putin have caused jitters in the West, with some watching the upcoming elections with anticipation of a possible Erdogan exit.

“We place great value on our bilateral relations with the Turkish side, because the Republic of Turkey has so far taken a very responsible sovereign and well-thought-out position on a whole range of regional and global problems that we are facing. And this position is very appealing to us,” Peskov said.

When US Ambassador to Ankara Jeff Flake paid a visit in March to Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan lashed out against him, calling the US diplomat’s visit a “shame,” and warning that Turkey needs to “teach the US a lesson in this election.”

On Thursday, one of the main four presidential candidates dropped out in a surprise move, citing “a campaign of slander.” Muharrem Ince, the candidate who withdrew, had faced weeks of lurid allegations on social media in Turkey.

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CNN’s Nadeen Ebrahim contributed reporting.

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