Turkey’s opposition leader vowed Thursday to send millions of migrants back home in a strident message aimed at winning the support of an ultranationalist who helped push last weekend’s presidential vote to a runoff, Agence France-Presse reported.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu delivered his first public address since a landmark election Sunday in which he came in almost 5 points behind President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s performance was the opposition’s best of the Turkish leader’s two-decade rule.
But it fell short of expectations set by pre-election polling and left the opposition visibly depressed.
The 74-year-old has since revamped his campaign team and toughened his message to win over Turkey’s right-wing voters in the May 28 runoff.
He also plans to meet with Sinan Oğan — a far-right figure who picked up 5.2 percent of the vote and is still weighing his endorsement.
Kılıçdaroğlu tried Thursday to toughen his message considerably from the more inclusive tone he set in the first stage of the campaign.
“Erdoğan, you did not protect the borders or the honor of the country,” the former civil servant said.
“You have deliberately brought more than 10 million refugees to this country… As soon as I come to power, I will send all the refugees home.”
Oğan has said he will only back a candidate who cracks down on migrants and fights “terrorism” — a code word in Turkey for Kurdish militants.
‘Syrians are our brothers’
Erdoğan and his Islamic-rooted party were lionized across swaths of the Muslim world for their more embracing stance towards those fleeing conflict in countries such as Syria.
Turkey’s 5-million-strong refugee and migrant population has become the world’s largest in the past decade.
A separate 2016 deal between Ankara and the European Union helped stem the continent’s migrant crisis by allowing those trying to reach Western Europe to settle in Turkey.
Turkey won billions of euros in funding from Brussels for the program.
But an economic crisis that gathered pace as the election neared sent anti-migrant sentiment soaring.
Erdoğan’s government has tried to find a middle ground.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Thursday that Turkey had already sent more than half a million Syrians back.
“We are not going to make Turkey into a refugee warehouse, and we have not done so to date. But the Syrians are our brothers,” Soylu said.
“We cannot send them to their deaths. And we have not. Tayyip Erdoğan doesn’t want to be remembered as a leader who sent Syrians to their deaths.”