April 6, 2017 / 4:03 PM / in 6 months

Turkey's Erdogan slams Europe, as latest poll suggests support rising

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize, Turkey, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cast Europe as a “center of Nazism” on Thursday, entering the final 10 days of campaigning for a historic referendum on a wave of nationalism, the latest poll suggesting support is swinging in his favor.

Pollster Gezici, whose research has tended to overestimate opposition support, put the “yes” vote ahead for the first time on 53.3 percent in a survey conducted in early April. Last month, its founder Murat Gezici put “no” ahead on 51.1 percent.

It said Erdogan had benefited from strong nationalist sentiment following last July’s failed coup.

“Nationalism has risen in Turkey since July 15 and the opposition remain weak in creating a narrative to consolidate society in this respect,” Gezici said in a statement.

The April 16 vote will decide constitutional changes which would replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency, a change Erdogan says is needed to give the NATO member and EU candidate nation strong leadership and stability in the face of mounting security challenges.

“EUROPE IS OVER”

The referendum has bitterly divided the country. Opponents fear increasing authoritianism from a leader they see as bent on eroding modern Turkey’s democracy and secular foundations.

Erdogan’s campaign, in which he and government ministers have dominated the airwaves with multiple speeches each day broadcast on all major networks, has strongly played the nationalist card to woo voters at home and abroad.

To the horror of European leaders, he has accused Germany and the Netherlands of “Nazi methods” for banning campaign rallies by Turkish officials seeking to court the expatriate vote, and threatened to “re-evaluate relations” with the EU.

“Europe has now become the center of oppression, violence and Nazism,” he told a sea of supporters waving red Turkish flags in the northwestern province of Balikesir on Thursday.

“Europe is over, it has nothing to say to the world or to us,” he told the cheering crowd.

Publicly-available polls suggest a far closer race than Erdogan might like. Some still put “no” ahead. Ruling AK Party officials have privately said they expect “yes” to win around 56 percent, well below the 60 percent Erdogan wants.

He is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass the constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers.

At the last nationwide parliamentary election in November 2015, 59 percent of Turks who voted in Germany backed the AKP, although turnout was low.

Gezici’s latest survey, conducted in 24 provinces on April 1-2, forecast 82-83 percent voter participation and predicted a “yes” vote as high as 56 percent if the turnout is lower.

Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton

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