Turkey’s Erdogan Cancels More Campaign Trips After Off-Camera Illness

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(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan canceled another day of scheduled campaign appearances after falling ill during a live television interview on Tuesday.

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Erdogan will refrain from visiting the Mediterranean coast city of Mersin on Thursday, where he was scheduled to attend a ceremony to mark the inaugural loading of fuel at a new power plant, according to a senior Turkish official with direct knowledge of the matter.

He will instead attend the ceremony via video conference along with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which is building the plant in cooperation with Turkey.

The decision to cancel Thursday’s trip was made on advice from doctors, the official said, asking not to be identified because of sensitivity of the matter. The presidency declined to comment.

Erdogan’s TV interview on Tuesday night was disrupted for several minutes after the 69-year-old president became sick with what he said was stomach flu. He canceled three campaign speeches scheduled to take place in central Turkey on Wednesday.

Markets appeared relatively unperturbed by the events. The lira remained flat against the dollar. Turkey’s benchmark stocks index fell 2.2% ahead of Thursday’s interest rates decision by the central bank, extending its slide from Tuesday.

Erdogan is facing his toughest election since taking power in 2003, with an alliance of six opposition parties joining forces to unseat him as Turks struggle with the worst cost-of-living crisis in two decades.

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The opposition alliance has chosen Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, as its joint presidential contender in the May 14 vote. Kilicdaroglu wished Erdogan a quick recovery in a post on Twitter.

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The cameras didn’t show Erdogan in the moments before the TV broadcast was interrupted, focusing instead on an interviewer asking a question. But microphones captured the concerned words of someone in the room saying, “Oh no, oh no.” The comments were widely circulated on social media.

The program had started 1.5 hours behind schedule without explanation. Erdogan said he’d considered canceling the interview due to his “upset stomach.”

“Due to my busy schedule, such issues can arise from time to time,” Erdogan said upon returning to the broadcast on Kanal 7 after several minutes. He answered one more question before the interview concluded.

During his time in power, Erdogan brought political Islam into Turkey’s once-adamantly secular mainstream. After initially building a reputation as an economic hero, he began to accrue unchecked powers that critics say have undermined the country’s democratic foundations.

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Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and foreign policy zigzags, including closer military ties with Russia, have created rifts with the West. Yet at the same time, Turkey, a NATO member and European Union aspirant, continues to wield enormous influence because of its position as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

--With assistance from Beril Akman.

(Updates with Erdogan’s decision to cancel Thursday’s campaign events in first four paragraphs.)

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