The Latest: Opposition candidate says he won Istanbul

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Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for Istanbul of Republican People's Party (CHP) gives a statement during a press conference after the local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party has declared victory in the race for mayor of Istanbul, even though the result in Turkey's most populous city and commercial hub is too close to call. State broadcaster TRT says former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim received 48.71 percent of the votes in Sunday's municipal elections while the opposition's candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, got 48.65 percent. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Latest on Turkey's municipal elections (all times local):

2:55 a.m.

The opposition's mayoral candidate says he has won the race in Istanbul by more than 29,000 votes.

Ekrem Imamoglu spoke early Monday, hours after the candidate for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party declared victory in the city even though the race is too close to call.

The official Anadolu Agency says the ruling party's candidate won 48.70 percent of the votes in Istanbul and that Imamoglu's has 48.65 percent, with 98 percent of the ballot boxes counted.

Imamoglu told reporters however, that results obtained by his party shows that the opposition has won Istanbul and that the ruling party "has no chance of closing the gap."

He criticized Anadolu Agency which has not updated the results for Istanbul for some three hours and called on the media organization to "fulfill its democratic duty."

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1:45 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his ruling party and its nationalist allies have won 56 percent of mayoral seats that were up for grabs in Turkey's municipal elections.

Erdogan spoke Sunday from the balcony of his ruling Justice and Development Party headquarters in Ankara, where he traditionally addresses supporters following electoral victories.

His party led the municipal elections with 45 percent of the votes, but suffered some setbacks, including losing the capital Ankara to the opposition.

The race in Istanbul is too close to call, even though the ruling party's candidate declared victory. Erdogan himself refrained from claiming victory in the city.

The vote was seen as a referendum on Erdogan amid a sharp economic downturn. Erdogan promised to strengthen the economy and increase growth and employment. He also said Turkey would work eliminate threats from Syrian Kurdish militants at Turkey's southern borders

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11:45 p.m.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party has declared victory in the race for mayor of Istanbul, even though the result in Turkey's most populous city and commercial hub is too close to call.

State broadcaster TRT says former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim received 48.71 percent of the votes in Sunday's municipal elections while the opposition's candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, got 48.65 percent.

Yildirim said: "We have won the election in Istanbul. May the results be beneficial for Istanbul and our country."

Erdogan attaches great importance to Istanbul. The Turkish leader began his rise to power as its mayor in 1994 and said at campaign rallies that "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey."

More than 91 percent of the ballot boxes have been counted so far.

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11 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his ruling party has emerged the winner of Turkey's mayoral elections "by a wide margin" and has dealt a blow to those who tried to bring Turkey to its knees.

Erdogan spoke after preliminary results relayed by state media showed that his party had gained some 45 percent of the votes, but lost the mayoral seat of Ankara to the main opposition after 25 years. The president had cast the elections as a matter of "national survival."

Erdogan said: "we accept that we have gained the hearts of the people in the places where we won, but were not successful enough in this regard in the places that we lost."

The Turkish leader noted that a pro-Kurdish party, which he branded as terrorists for their alleged links to outlawed Kurdish rebels, had suffered losses in the country's mostly-Kurdish populated regions.

He said that "our Kurdish brothers have shown that they will not yield to a terrorist group or to those who have come out of the woodwork with the backing of the terrorist group."

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8:40 p.m.

Turkey's state media say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party is leading in the municipal elections but may look set to lose control of the capital city, Ankara, after 25 years.

State broadcaster TRT says Erdogan's Islamic-based party gained nearly 47 percent of the votes in Sunday's election, with half of the more than 194,000 ballot boxes counted. The main, secular-oriented opposition party has 31 percent.

However, the opposition is leading in Ankara with 49.5 percent of the votes, according to TRT.

The capital city was considered a main battleground of these elections that are seen as a test of Erdogan's popularity amid an economic downturn and rising inflation.

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8:10 p.m.

Turkey's official news agency says two people have been killed in fighting in southern Turkey, raising the number of deaths in violence during local elections to four.

Anadolu Agency said the latest deaths occurred Sunday in the southern province of Gaziantep where supporters of two rival candidates for the race of neighborhood administrators opened fire at each other. Two people were wounded in the shooting.

Earlier, two people were killed in the eastern Malatya province. Dozens of other people were injured in scattered fighting across the country.

The election campaigns before the vote were highly polarizing with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials using hostile rhetoric toward opposition candidates.

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7:25 p.m.

State media reports that Turkey's ruling party is leading in the country's municipal election.

State broadcaster TRT says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's conservative Islamic-based party has garnered nearly 48 percent of the votes in Sunday's municipal election with nearly 28 percent of the more than 194,000 ballot boxes counted. According to early results, the main opposition party has nearly 31 percent of the vote.

The elections are seen as a crucial test of Erdogan's support amid a sharp economic downturn, marked by double-digit inflation and soaring food prices.

More than 57 million voters were eligible to take part in choosing the mayors of 30 major cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts in Turkey.

The voting was marred by scattered election violence that killed at least two people and injured dozens of others across Turkey.

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6 p.m.

Polls have closed in Turkey's municipal elections, which are being seen as a test for the popularity of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party amid a strong economic downturn.

More than 57 million voters were eligible to take part in choosing the mayors of 30 major cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts in Turkey.

They also were casting ballots at more than 194,000 polling stations across the country to elect local assembly representatives, as well as tens of thousands of neighborhood and village administrators.

Turkey is struggling now with a weakened currency, double-digit inflation and soaring food prices.

In the last local election in 2014, Erdogan's Justice and Development Party won nearly 43 percent of the vote and retained its hold on Istanbul and the capital city, Ankara.

Elected officials will serve for five years.

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5:30 p.m.

Turkey's official news agency has reported two deaths and dozens of injuries in fights related to local elections in several provinces.

Anadolu news agency said Sunday the deaths in the eastern Malatya province followed a brawl between supporters of competing candidates in a race for neighborhood administrators.

It says at least 21 people were injured in southeastern Diyarbakir province over brawls in the same type of local race. In southeastern Mardin province, at least nine people were hurt. Twelve people were lightly wounded in Sanliurfa province bordering Syria.

Two people are also injured in Istanbul's Kadikoy district in a fight between relatives of candidates running for neighborhood administration posts.

Election campaigns in Turkey have been highly polarized with officials, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, using hostile rhetoric toward opposition candidates.

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5:15 p.m.

The co-leader of a pro-Kurdish party has cast her ballot in Istanbul and said her party worked hard in Turkey's local elections despite government pressures.

Pervin Buldan of the Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, told reporters she was heading to the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the southeast to await the results of Sunday's vote.

Since 2016, the Turkish government has removed elected mayors from 95 municipalities for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and replaced them with trustees.

The HDP —the second largest opposition party in parliament— has vowed to win those seats back but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened he won't recognize results if there are any alleged links to terror groups.

Mainstream media did not cover HDP's campaign rallies. The party is strategically sitting out races in Turkey's major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, to send votes to the opposition.

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5 p.m.

The leading candidates to be Istanbul's next mayor have cast their ballots in the key race in Turkey's local elections.

Ruling party candidate Binali Yildirim, formerly a prime minister and transport minister for Turkey, said he campaigned hard for the city of 15 million. He says "we have listened to Istanbul residents and now it's time to work and to serve."

Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who has served as a district mayor in Istanbul, said he hopes for a high voter turnout in Sunday's vote. He says "I wish for a good administration and democracy embracing all."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose rise to power began as Istanbul mayor in 1994, knows that a win for his party in Istanbul, the financial and cultural heart of Turkey, is crucial. He has said "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey."

The mayor of Istanbul will serve for five years.

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3:05 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast his vote in Istanbul for key municipal elections that will test his popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.

Speaking to reporters at his polling station, Erdogan expressed sadness over two deaths in eastern Malatya province that were linked to the elections.

The leader of the Felicity Party, an Islamic-oriented rival of the ruling party, identified the dead as party volunteers and alleged they were killed by a relative of a candidate running for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan said it would not be "correct to make this a questioning or a judgment between political parties."

The Turkish president called Sunday's local elections a "keystone of democracy" and said if his party does well it would add "great power" to the administration.

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1 p.m.

The leader of a small Islamic-oriented party says two party members were killed in eastern Turkey.

Temel Karamollaoglu of the Felicity Party tweeted that a polling station volunteer and a party observer were killed in a district of Malatya province.

Turkey's official Anadolu news agency reported Sunday that the deaths followed a brawl between supporters of competing candidates in an election for neighborhood administrators. Anadolu says one person was injured.

Karamollaoglu alleged the party members were attacked by a relative of the candidate from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party.

He says the dispute wasn't "simple animosity." He says the volunteers tried to enforce the law requiring ballots to be marked in private voting booths instead of out in the open.

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9:35 a.m.

Voters in Turkey are electing mayors for 30 large cities, and a main battleground for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party appears to be in the capital, Ankara.

Opinion polls suggested the candidate of an opposition alliance, Mansur Yavas, could end the longtime rule of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Ankara. A former government environment minister, Mehmet Ozhaseki, is running for mayor under the banner of Erdogan and his nationalist allies.

Another closely watched mayoral election is in Istanbul. Erdogan began his rise to power as the city's mayor in 1994 and has said at campaign rallies that "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey."

Erdogan named former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to run against opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in the Istanbul mayor's race. The president spoke at six rallies in Istanbul on Saturday.

Erdogan has campaigned tirelessly for Justice and Development Party candidates and framed the municipal elections taking place across Turkey on Sunday as matters of "national survival."

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7:10 a.m.

Voters in Turkey have begun casting ballots in municipal elections that are seen as a barometer of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn in the nation that straddles Europe and Asia.

More than 57 million voters are eligible to choose mayors, local representatives and neighborhood or village administrators. The elections are being held as Turkey faces an economic recession, rising food prices and high unemployment.

Erdogan's past electoral successes have been based on economic prosperity, but opinion polls suggest this time around his ruling party could lose control of Turkey's large cities, including Ankara, the capital.

Erdogan has campaigned heavily for his party's candidates, declaring Turkey's economic woes "an attack" on the country and framing the elections on Sunday as matter of "national survival."