Turkey to take additional security measures for April 16 polls

Turkey to take additional security measures for April 16 polls

Turkey to take additional security measures for April 16 polls

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Over a 250,000 police officers will be assigned to ensure the safety of the polls during Turkey’s upcoming referendum on whether to shift to an executive presidential system on April 16, while the government has urged additional security measures in tense eastern and southeastern provinces.

“Some 251,788 police officers and 128,455 gendarmerie officers will be assigned for the safety of the referendum,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu stated on April 10.

Pointing to ongoing clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and security forces in parts of the southeast, Soylu said additional officers would be on duty on polling day in affected areas.

“Some 51,148 security guards and 18,675 voluntary security guards in 26 cities will also be assigned for the referendum,” he added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had recently announced that four additional provinces would be included into the state’s “security guard” system and promised a wage rise to all village guards. 

“Our security guards can now be assigned to operations other than their own cities. In addition to the present provinces, Erzurum, Erzincan, Hatay and Osmaniye have been included into the security guard system. By increasing the number to 55,000 and reducing the average age, we have made our security guards the greatest supporters of our soldiers and police officers,” Erdoğan said on April 5.

The “village guard system” was established in 1985 as an additional armed security force in the active fight with the PKK in the region. With one of the recent state of emergency decrees in February 2017, the name of the “village guard” system was changed to the “security guard” system and they were given additional authority. According to the new decree, the total number of guards rose to 54,760, while their age was limited to be between 22 and 30.

Yıldırım warns police officers over poll safety

Addressing a meeting of police forces in the Aegean province of İzmir on April 10, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also stressed the importance of ensuring safety at polling stations ahead of the referendum.

“On that day, you will have a harder duty. The work you will do on that day is very important: Ensuring the safety of polls in every corner of our country and ensuring that the nation reflects its free will at the ballot boxes,” Yıldırım said, warning of “manipulations of the ballot.”

“Remember what we went through in the June 7 [2015 election] when we could not ensure the safety of the polls, and terrorist organizations changed the choice of the nation by use of threats, blackmail and oppression,” he said, referring to the June 2015 election when the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) received 13 percent of the votes, effectively preventing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from winning a parliamentary majority by gaining 80 seats.

After five months of fruitless efforts to form a coalition government, Turkey went to another general election on Nov. 1, 2015.

Claiming that the 13 percent won by the HDP was the result of political pressure from the PKK, Yıldırım warned the police against “possible manipulations.”

“That election result is why our country faced political instability, even if only for a short period of time. That’s why you have a very important job to prevent any manipulation of citizens going to the ballots, to prevent any pressure on them and to secure the safety of the ballots,” he added.