Turkish court to rule in case against top Erdogan opponent Ekrem Imamoglu

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A Turkish court is expected to reach a verdict on Wednesday in a case against Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, an opposition figure who opinion polls suggest would be a strong possible challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming national elections.

The verdict would come weeks after a sentence was finalized against the Istanbul head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Canan Kaftancioglu, a key architect of Imamoglu’s mayoral victory in 2019.

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Political analysts and CHP lawmakers see the case as the latest effort by Erdogan and his ruling AK Party to muzzle the opposition ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for no later than June 2023.

Critics say Turkish courts bend to Erdogan’s will after his two decades of increasingly authoritarian rule. The government denies these claims and says the judiciary is independent.

Imamoglu, who is from the CHP, is charged with insulting a public official in a speech he made about a repeat of the 2019 mayoral election in 2019. Imamoglu narrowly won that election over his AK Party rival and, after those results were annulled, won the rerun of the vote by a comfortable margin.

In his speech, Imamoglu said: “Those who annulled the elections on March 31 are fools.”

The Istanbul municipality’s press office said he had been responding to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who it said had referred to Imamoglu as a fool.

It said Imamoglu was not criticizing the High Electoral Board (YSK) but politicians who caused the vote to be annulled.

The municipality’s press office said this week that the judiciary was being used as a weapon: “(The aim is to) create a political ban against Imamoglu with a verdict and eliminate him from the upcoming elections.”

The state prosecutor wants Imamoglu jailed for four years and one month, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported.

An informal opposition coalition has not yet selected its presidential candidate.

Most analysts expect CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu to win the nomination but Imamoglu is another possible contender.

Some polls show him comfortably winning a run-off against Erdogan, whose popularity has waned amid a series of economic crises.

Imamoglu’s mayoral victory marked the first time Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessor had lost in Turkey’s largest city in 25 years.

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