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Violence mars Turkish elections

Early estimates showed that while the ruling AKP appeared to have won key local elections taking place across Turkey on Sunday, opposition parties cut far deeper into its mandate than expected.

Election day was marred by violence in the mainly Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey where fights between rival political parties left at least five people dead and more than 50 injured.

The AKP have campaigned hard for a clear win with party leaders — especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — staging mass political rallies across the country for the past few weeks. If they succeed, it will strengthen their party mandate and clear the way for democratic reforms such as amending the Turkish constitution.

Erdogan has pledged to reform the 1982 military-drafted constitution and change the way the constitutional court works, steps that would remove some obstacles to EU membership but threaten to revive tensions with secularists who accuse him of pursuing an Islamist agenda.

The AKP, which has roots in political Islam, was nearly closed down by the constitutional court in 2008 for Islamist activities in a case that deeply polarized Turkey.

While all ballots have not yet been counted, the AKP appears set to lose 15 mayoral seats. One of the main reasons for the drop in votes for the ruling party, according to experts, is the economic crisis that caused thousands of people to lose their jobs.

Playing the expectation game, the AKP’s failure to build on its 47 percent national victory in 2007 is certain to stir debate in the coming days about the party’s prospects of maintaining its reign over Turkish political life.