In election manifesto, Erdogan vows new military campaigns

ANKARA, Turkey — Turksih President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday promised new military operations against Kurdish militants along its border in Syria and Iraq as he presented his election manifesto.

Speaking before thousands of supporters in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan described next month's snap presidential and parliamentary polls as a "milestone" for a strong Turkey. The country would "take the stage as a global power," he vowed.

Erdogan called elections more than a year earlier than planned for June 24 — a move analysts say partly aims to capitalize on nationalist sentiment running high following a successful campaign that ousted Syrian Kurdish militia from the Syrian border enclave of Afrin.

"In the new term, Turkey will add new operations to the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations," Erdogan said in reference to a cross-border offensive in Syria 2016 and to the one in Afrin. "The operations will continue until not one terrorist is left."

The elections are hugely important as they will transform Turkey's governing system to an executive presidency, ushering in a constitutional change that was narrowly approved in a referendum last year. As part of the reforms, the office of the prime minister will be abolished, with its powers largely transferred to the president.

An alliance of opposition parties, who argue the new system will lead to one-man rule, have vowed a return to a parliamentary system with strong checks and balances.

Aiming to ease fears over Turkey's economy, Erdogan promised lower interest rates and inflation and to reduce the current account deficit.

"The Turkish economy will be more resistant to outer shocks and financial blows. Turkey will be even more attractive to investors," Erdogan said.

He added that Turkey had never abandoned its goal of European Union membership.

Meanwhile, Muharrem Ince, the presidential hopeful nominated by Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party to run against Erdogan in the presidential race, threatened to hold campaign events in front of television stations to protest the scarce media coverage of his initial election rally.

With Turkey's media largely controlled by the government or owned by businesses close to Erdogan, opposition parties complain of an uneven playing field.

The 54-year-old former physics teacher, who is known for his combative rhetoric, said on Twitter: "We will come to power by battling this media system. If this embargo on the opposition ordered by (Erdogan's) palace continues, we will hold our meetings in front of the television stations."

The successful candidate needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote.

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