Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has officially declared that he will run for president in an August election. The long-expected announcement was made in front of thousands of his cheering supporters.
In a ceremony in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan told an estimated crowd of 4,000 supporters of his conservative religious-based Justice and Development Party (AKP) that August's presidential election would mark the start of a "new Turkey."
"The owner of this victory is only Allah," Erdogan said in a speech filled with references to his faith, adding that "we are bracing for a blessed journey to serve the people."
The cheering crowd chanted: "Turkey is proud of you."
If elected, Erdogan is expected to reject the largely ceremonial role performed by previous presidents. Being directly elected instead of being chosen by parliament would give him a greater mandate, he said.
"The fact that the president will be elected by the people is a turning point for democracy, " he said, adding that "the presidency will not be a place of rest."
Erdogan has already been in power for more than a decade as prime minister, in which time he presided over economic reforms that saw him gain strong support from rural populations and conservative small business owners.
His AKP has never lost an election, topping local polls in March with 43 percent of the vote, despite a year of controversies including the anti-government Gezi Park protests and far-reaching corruption allegations.
Erdogan's critics have pointed out his increasingly authoritarian and polarizing style of rule, including his branding of opponents as "traitors" and "terrorists" and his government's attempted banning of websites such as YouTube and Twitter. He was also criticized for what some called an insensitive response to the deadly Soma mining disaster in May.
He is predicted to be able to win the election in the first round on August 10, without the need for a runoff scheduled for two weeks later.
The other candidates are the devout intellectual Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who was chosen by Turkey's two main opposition parties, and the energetic Selahattin Demirtas for the country's biggest pro-Kurdish party.
se/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)