People have protested against the results of the referendum in Istanbul. (Reuters: Kemal Aslan)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told international election observers to “know their place” after they criticised a referendum granting him sweeping new powers, and said it was not so important to Turkey if the EU broke off accession talks.
- Erdogan says Turkey did not “see, hear or acknowledge” OCSE observer reports
- Germany says result shows “deep split” in Turkish society
- Pledge to reinstate death penalty threatens Turkey’s EU membership prospects
Addressing crowds of flag-waving supporters from the steps of the presidential palace in Ankara, Mr Erdogan said Sunday’s vote had ended all debate on changing the constitution and creating an executive presidency.
Implementing the reforms would now begin, starting with the judiciary, he said.
Election authorities said preliminary results showed 51.4 per cent of voters had backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic in Sunday’s referendum.
Several Turkish opposition groups claimed irregularities during the voting process and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the referendum fell short of international standards.
Mr Erdogan said that Turkey did not “see, hear or acknowledge” reports by the OSCE observer mission and said some countries in Europe had been more opposed to the constitutional changes than even Turkey’s own opposition.
“The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us,” he told a crowd as he arrived at Ankara airport, in response to the monitors’ assessment.
“We’ll continue on our path. Talk to the hand. This country has carried out the most democratic elections, not seen anywhere in the West.”
He also vowed that Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” incursion into northern Syria would not be its last such venture in the region but its first, saying it would carry out as many military operations as necessary, wherever necessary, in its fight against terrorism.
Voices of concern from Europe
Tweet from OSCE: “Unlevel playing field in Turkey’s constitutional referendum: preliminary conclusions by international observers.”
European leaders reacted with restraint and concern towards the narrow outcome of the referendum.
While relations between the European Union and Turkey have been deteriorating for months, the result of the Turkish vote will likely only widen the growing political and cultural distance between the 28-nation bloc and the EU candidate country.
Both Germany and France expressed concern about possible election irregularities and called on Mr Erdogan to engage in dialogue with the opposition after the referendum showed how deeply the country was divided.
“The narrow result of the vote shows how deeply split the Turkish society is,” Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a joint statement.
“This implies a big responsibility for the Turkish Government and President Erdogan personally.”
Ms Merkel and Mr Gabriel said Turkey — as an OSCE member and EU candidate country — needed to consider these concerns.
During the campaign, Mr Erdogan repeatedly criticised European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad.
Death penalty decision could threaten EU prospects
France’s President Francois Hollande warned that if Turkey reinstated the death penalty, as Mr Erdogan suggested in a speech late on Sunday, it would “constitute a rupture” with Turkey’s pledges to respect human rights as part of efforts to join European institutions.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday the referendum was bound to complicate further cooperation between Ankara and the EU.
Mr Kurz tweeted the result “shows how divided the country is. Cooperation with #EU will become even more complex”.
But Kati Piri, a member of the European Parliament and parliamentary rapporteur on Turkey, struck a more conciliatory tone.
“Outcome shows millions of Turkish citizens share same European values,” Ms Piri tweeted.
“The EU should never close door to them.”
The US State Department said it had taken note of the OSCE’s concerns and looked forward to a final report, suggesting it will withhold comment until a full assessment is completed.
“We look forward to OSCE/ODIHR’s final report, which we understand will take several weeks,” acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate in Istanbul. (Reuters: Yagiz Karahan)