Early polls put Islamist Justice and Development party ahead with 44%-46% of vote, with main opposition on 23%-28%
Turkey's embattled prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeared to fight off serial allegations of sleaze on Sunday night when his governing Justice and Development party (AKP) gained a substantial victory in nationwide local elections seen as a barometer of the prime minister's popularity.
Inconclusive projections and partial ballot returns showed the AKP likely to hold Istanbul and reach its declared goal of more than 40% of overall votes.
Speaking at a victory rally in Ankara, Erdogan signalled a crackdown on opponents, especially the network of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, his former ally: "There will not be a state within the state. We will root them out," he told the crowd.
He said it was time for a "new Turkey", and added: "Seventy-seven million should know that the new Turkey has won today. Today is a day of victory."
Confusion reigned during the counting of the votes, with hundreds of election-rigging allegations during the first hours after ballots closed. The AKP and the opposition CHP both jumped the gun to argue they had won the two main cities, increasing rather than easing the polarisation of recent months as Erdogan has opted for confrontation to fight off damaging allegations of sleaze and authoritarianism.
After his CHP rival, Mansur Yavas, declared victory in a press conference, Ankara incumbent Melih Gökcek followed suit, accusing his opponents of "manipulations" and promising supporters a "historic victory." Similar statements were later made for Turkey's biggest metropolis and economic centre, Istanbul, with AKP and CHP officials slamming local news agencies for "deliberate manipulations".
Trust in election results was at an all-time low as the state-run Anatolian news agency and the privately owned Cihan service published different numbers.
With about half of votes counted, results cited on Turkish television put Erdogan's Islamist-rooted party ahead with 44-46%, and the main opposition CHP on 23-28%. If that result is borne out, Erdogan may claim at least for now to have ridden out the biggest challenge to his 12-year rule.