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Turkey opposition backs Kilicdaroglu to take on Erdogan

Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has emerged as the main challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan in landmark elections expected on May 14 after a six-party alliance picked him as expected as its presidential candidate.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, head of the country's second-biggest party, aims to emerge from Erdogan's shadow and oust the president after a two-decade reign that has transformed the NATO member country and major emerging market economy.

"Our table is the table of peace. Our only goal is to take the country to days of prosperity, peace and joy," Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), told about 2000 people gathered in Ankara.

"We will govern Turkey with consultation and consensus."

Polls suggest that the presidential and parliamentary votes in two months will be tight, with the opposition bloc running slightly ahead of the governing alliance.

The bloc has vowed to reverse many of Erdogan's policies on the economy, civil rights and foreign affairs in what many see as the most consequential election in the republic's 100-year history.

A former civil servant, Kilicdaroglu could take advantage of years of economic crisis and soaring inflation.

Yet some doubt that the feisty former economist who climbed the ranks as a corruption-fighter can defeat Erdogan, Turkey's longest-serving leader whose campaigning charisma has helped achieve more than a dozen election victories.

Voters will decide not only who leads Turkey but how it is governed, where its economy is headed and what role it may play to ease conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Kilicdaroglu's prospects could be boosted by a last-minute deal on Monday to reunite the opposition bloc that had splintered on Friday when the big nationalist IYI Party opposed his candidacy.

After a tense 72 hours, the alliance met again on Monday and accepted an IYI proposal that Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, the popular CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara respectively, would later be appointed as vice presidents.

Kilicdaroglu, in his speech late on Monday, said the leaders of the other five opposition parties would also serve as vice presidents.

Reflecting concerns over Kilicdaroglu's ability to win, IYI leader Meral Aksener had on Friday left the alliance, saying it should choose one of the mayors to take on Erdogan because they would fare better.

But she returned on Monday.

"This is a massive political coup against Erdogan and should hand the opposition a decisive win in the first round on May 14," Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, an Istanbul-based political advisory, said.

The co-leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP, the third-biggest party in the parliament, said they would back Kilicdaroglu after "clear and open" talks.

"Our clear expectation is a transition for a strong democracy. If we can agree on fundamental principles, we may support him in presidential elections," HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar said on Monday.