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Erdogan loyalist to be appointed as Turkish PM

AFP , Sunday 22 May 2016
Binali Yildirim
Binali Yildirim, Turkey's current Transportation Minister and founding member of the AKP, Turkey’s governing party, speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, May 19, 2016. (AP Photo)
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Turkey's transport minister Binali Yildirim, a steadfast ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was Sunday named ruling party chief and was also set to be appointed as prime minister in moves further consolidating the Turkish strongman's grip on power.

Yildirim, 60, vowed at an extraordinary ruling party congress to make a priority out of implementing Erdogan's controversial plan for a presidential system to enshrine his status as the Turkish number one.

He replaces Ahmet Davutoglu, a former foreign minister who promoted his own ambitious agenda but threw in the towel after a power struggle with Erdogan.

Yildirim was the only candidate at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) congress in Ankara, receiving 1,405 votes from 1,470 delegates present.

In a carefully choreographed process, Erdogan is due later Sunday to hand Yildirim the mandate of prime minister, with a new government expected to be formed in the coming days.

By AKP convention, the posts of premier and ruling party chief are held by the same person. Davutoglu was at the presidential palace to formally submit his resignation as prime minister, television reports said.

Analysts expect Yildirim to be a more pliant figure for Erdogan and he lost no time in making clear his enthusiasm for the presidential system plan.

"Turkey needs a new constitution. Are you ready to bring in a presidential system?" Yildirim said to cheers at the congress, saying this was the way to end the current "confusion".

Erdogan first came to power as prime minister in 2003, switching to the presidency in 2014. If he seeks a second presidential mandate in 2019, he could stay in power until 2024.

In a second speech after his election was confirmed, Yildirim added: "Our path is the path of Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

Transport minister for almost all of the last decade and a half, Yildirim has been Erdogan's pointman for the implementation of his grandiose road and rail infrastructure projects.

"There appears to be more harmony" between Yildirim and the president than in the Davutoglu era, Deniz Zeyrek, the Ankara bureau chief of the Hurriyet daily, told AFP at the congress.

He is just the third party chairman in the history of the AKP -- which has transformed Turkey by putting Islam at the forefront of the officially secular country's politics -- after Erdogan and Davutoglu.

Not known for charisma, Yildirim made a glitzy entrance in front of thousands at the congress, clad in football scarves and throwing carnations into the crowds to the sound of thumping Turkish pop music.

However his speech was marred by a hoarse voice as he seemed unaccustomed to the challenge of addressing such a vast audience.

Erdogan was not at the congress, with existing rules stipulating the head of state should not be a member of a party, something the president may want to change in a new constitution.

But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag made no secret of who he thought was the guiding light of the AKP, saying: "The AK Party is Tayyip's party."

In a message from Erdogan read by Bozdag, the president said "the bonds of my heart with you have never and will never be cut."

Despite rumours he is privately deeply embittered over his exit, Davutoglu put on a show of loyalty to the party saying: "The AK Party's unity is more important than anything for me."

Divisions between Davutoglu and Erdogan had been boiling for months over a series of issues including the presidential system and an accord with the EU on migrants.

Erdogan's critics have accused him of authoritarianism, with the latest controversy a bill adopted by parliament on Friday that would lift immunity from prosecution for dozens of pro-Kurdish and other MPs and could see them evicted from parliament.

Heading on a visit to Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced "great concern" over recent political developments in the country.

Yildirim also warned the European Union to be honest about Turkey's long-stalled membership bid, as frustration grows in Ankara that the EU will not fulfill its side of a deal on migrants.

"There is one thing that needs to be done by the European Union. This confusion over Turkey's full membership and the migrant issue has to be brought to an end," Yildirim said.

Both Erdogan and Yildirim are strongly opposed to resuming talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Kurdish militant group that has killed hundreds of members of the security forces since a two-year-long ceasefire collapsed in 2015.

"Operations will continue uninterrupted until the PKK terrorist organisation -- whose hands are in blood -- ends its armed actions," Yildirim said.

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