Turkey PM vows to strengthen presidency as kicks off campaign

Ankara (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan kicked off his presidential campaign on Saturday by promising to transform the role into a more powerful position if he wins the August polls.

"We are taking the first step of a new beginning", he told thousands of cheering supporters in mass rally in the northern city of Samsun, just days after announcing his candidacy.

A boisterous crowd of supporters from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) cheered, called Erdogan's name and waved Turkish and party flags under the pouring rain.

Erdogan declared his candidacy on Tuesday to become the country's first democratically elected president and is widely expected to sweep to victory in polls due on August 10.

The 60-year-old leader made clear on Saturday that he would transform the largely ceremonial post held by Abdullah Gul into a more powerful position.

"Is it possible to be head of the state and sit back?" Erdogan said, pledging to use any extra powers granted to him as president to push ahead with new airport and road construction projects.

Erdogan symbolically chose the city of Samsun to kick off his campaign where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, started the Turkish war of independence in 1919.

"Ninety-five years later, we are kicking off presidential campaign from Samsun, a new step for a new Turkey," he said.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey's politics for over a decade, has steered his AKP government to successive election wins, notching up a bigger share of the vote each time.

His address was often interrupted by supporters shouting slogans like "Turkey is proud of you!"

But a series of crises over the past year ranging from mass street protests to a vast corruption scandal have badly bruised his stature both home and abroad.

Hailed by supporters as the man who brought stability to Turkey, the prime minister has also faced criticism from secular segments of the country for his uncompromising stance and heavy-handed tactics used to crush protests.