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Islam key in Turkish campaign

| Saturday, May 30, 2015, 8:06 p.m.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30: A supporter wears a Kurdish protester holds a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flag as he waves Turkish flag during Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democtratic Party (HDP) rally ahead of the June 7 general on May 30, 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey will hold general election on June 7, 2015. Although it is a relatively small party, all eyes will be on HDP. If it reaches the minimum 10 percent threshold required for entering parliament as a party, it could effectively thwart Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogans ambition to lead a presidential system following a constitutional change. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30: A supporter wears a Kurdish protester holds a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flag as he waves Turkish flag during Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democtratic Party (HDP) rally ahead of the June 7 general on May 30, 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey will hold general election on June 7, 2015. Although it is a relatively small party, all eyes will be on HDP. If it reaches the minimum 10 percent threshold required for entering parliament as a party, it could effectively thwart Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogans ambition to lead a presidential system following a constitutional change. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — Evoking the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and vowing the Muslim call to prayer would forever ring out, President Tayyip Erdogan put religion center stage on Saturday as campaigning for Turkey's parliamentary election entered its final week.

Persuading religious conservatives, including pious Kurds and nationalists, to back the Islamist-rooted AK Party will be key in an election Erdogan hopes will bring him stronger presidential powers that opponents see as a threat to democracy.

Turkey's most dominant politician for more than a decade and founder of the AK Party, Erdogan draws much of his support from the pious masses. His rhetoric often plays on a tension reaching back to the 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk forged a secular republic from the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy.

“We will not give way to those who speak out against our call to prayer,” he said in a speech in Istanbul to mark the anniversary of the 1453 Islamic conquest that turned the capital of the Byzantine Empire into the seat of Ottoman power.

Erdogan appeals to conservative Muslim Turks who feel they were treated as second-class citizens during decades of rule by secular parties. He has spoken with scorn of the old secular elite. “They drink their whisky on the Bosphorus ... and hold the rest of the people in contempt,” he once said.

Erdogan casts the main secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), founded by Ataturk, as hostile to religion, but the biggest electoral threat is likely to come from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).

If it crosses the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament it would steal seats from AKP, potentially leaving it unable to form a majority government.

Seeking to win over pious Kurds, Erdogan has devoted much time to questioning the HDP's Muslim credentials, describing them as followers of the Zoroastrian religion and accusing them of an insulting reference to the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam which worshippers face when praying.

“These people have nothing to do with Islam,” Erdogan, who held aloft a Kurdish translation of the Koran this month, told a rally in Istanbul this week.

Islamist media accused HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas of eating pork, something he has denied.

“For weeks the president and prime minister are going around saying ‘I am a Muslim' and running a campaign of lies and slander,” he told CNN Turk on Wednesday.

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