British gov’t warns travellers ahead of Turkish elections

The British Foreign Office has updated its travel advice ahead of upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, warning travellers to avoid large crowds and follow the directions of local authorities.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced snap elections in April, setting the date for June 24, almost one-and-a-half years before they were scheduled, in November 2019. The presidential election will move to a second round of voting two weeks later if no outright winner emerges from the first.

With political parties working overtime to organise rallies and other political events around the country before votes are cast and instances of violence reported at recent campaigning events, the British Foreign Office’s announcement was timely.

It is the rallies and demonstrations taking place on or after election day that the announcement specifically warns travellers of, however.

An upset at the ballot box or suspicions of electoral fraud are two possible scenarios that could bring Turkish citizens out to the streets to protest, potentially triggering police interventions or violence between rival political groups.

However, the Foreign Office warns travellers to stay away from all large crowds, including those of citizens who can be expected to celebrate if their party performs well at the elections.

The British government has already classified Turkey as a country that bears risks for travellers, describing the chance of a terrorist attack as “very likely” due to the dual threat of attacks by jihadists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or by Kurdish militants from groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bekir Bozdağ has said that the Turkish Armed Forces could enter the Qandil mountains, a region in northern Iraq known as a stronghold for the PKK, “at any time.”

Turkish military operations have ramped up in areas near Qandil in recent months, including setting up outposts and fixed positions in the region and clashing with fighters from the PKK. “Turkey may enter Qandil; anything could happen at any time,” Turkish media quoted Bozdağ as saying during a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Bozdağ’s statement came as reports of a Turkish advance in the Iraqi Kurdish districts of Duhok and Erbil hit the Arab press, sparking speculation that Ankara was preparing to pull the trigger on such an operation.

An attack on Qandil would be the Turkish military’s second operation targeting Kurdish fighters this year, after Turkish forces successfully captured the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian-Kurdish group linked to the PKK.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to extend that operation to Manbij, an area of northern Syria close to Afrin where the YPG and its affiliates are positioned alongside forces from the United States, which considers the Syrian-Kurdish groups important allies in containing extremist jihadist groups and Iranian-linked forces in Syria.(SCF with Ahval)

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