Coronavirus stokes tensions between Erdogan and Imamoglu

1 April 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic has rekindled rivalry in Turkey between President Tayyip Erdogan and Istanbul’s opposition mayor, with disputes over fundraising and a potential lockdown possibly endangering a coordinated effort to combat the outbreak.

The central government in Ankara has said a money-raising campaign launched by the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is illegal and it has threatened to prosecute those involved.

Imamoglu, seen as a possible future candidate for the presidency, launched the campaign this week with the slogan “We will succeed together”, seeking cash and other donations from wealthier Turks for hundreds of thousands of those in need.

Erdogan then launched a rival “National Solidarity” campaign and promised seven months of his salary to the cause. Various state institutions, firms and politicians made contributions and the president condemned the municipal campaigns on Wednesday.

“There is no sense in having a state within a state,” he told AKP officials in a televised video conference, saying nobody had the right to raise funds aside from the presidency.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Imamoglu’s campaign contravened a law requiring that permission be sought from authorities before collecting money for the needy and said it would act against those responsible.

The rivalry is about much more than money-raising, though.

Imamoglu wants a lockdown in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with 16 million people, to slow the spread of coronavirus, while Erdogan – who has adopted some other containment measures – is resisting such a move to cushion the economic pain.

Turkey’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 13,531 on Tuesday, making it the 10th worst affected country in the world, with 214 deaths.

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