Thousands of women rally for Turkey 'Yes' vote
ANKARA - Thousands of pro-government women filled an Istanbul arena Sunday in support of a "Yes" vote in next month's referendum on boosting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.
Waving Turkish flags, women shouted "Of course, Yes!" ahead of the April 16 vote on constitutional changes that would give Turkey an executive presidency similar to political systems in France or in the United States, correspondents at the scene said.
Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is running the "Yes" campaign, saying the changes would bring political stability. The vote is widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan himself because the proposed plan could see him stay in power until 2029.
Opponents however say the changes that would grant sweeping new powers to the head of state would make parliament dysfunctional and promote a one-man model.
Pro-govermment supporters gathered at the 12,500 capacity sports complex, known as Abdi Ipekci Arena, outside Istanbul's ancient city walls, with the campaign theme: "Yes! If women are there, democracy is there."
The gathering was organised by the pro-government Women's and Democracy Association (KADEM), whose deputy chair is Erdogan's younger daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar.
"For the survival of our country, it is a very important decision," said AKP supporter Ayse Gurcan, who came to the event from Erzurum province in eastern Turkey.
"We must make our choice in a healthy way and I believe that everyone will say 'Yes'," she said
Another woman, Zehra Ferahtay, said the approval of constitutional changes would unify Turkey especially after the failed coup attempt in July to oust Erdogan's government.
"Yes, I support the presidential system and especially after July 15, we must be more united and together for this country," she said.
Saliha Mantar, wearing an Islamic headscarf, said women had been granted more rights since Erdogan came to power as prime minister in 2003 and as president in 2014.
"We, women, promise to be always behind our leader," she said, referring to Erdogan.
Critics however argue if the plan is approved, Turkey would lurch toward authoritarianism, saying it would not be a system based on checks and balances.