But the final hours of campaigning and the election itself were marred by outbreaks of violence, mostly in the Kurdish-majority eastern part of the country, which left nine dead and scores injured.

A smiling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan thanked voters as he claimed victory in Sunday's local elections, nearly a year and a half after his party swept to power in parliamentary polls.

"Some 17 months on, the people have re-elected us. We have earned the confidence of the people," he said in a speech televised from AKP headquarters in Ankara.

Erdogan, a former Islamist and Istanbul mayor who now advocates secularism, also extended his condolences to the families of those killed or injured in outbreaks of election-related violence over the weekend. At least nine were killed and scores injured.

Sunday's elections - involving five different ballots - were held to choose 93,000 representatives across the country's 81 provinces - including mayors, city councillors, provincial councillors and village elders - who will serve for a term of five years.

Rivals trailing

Early television projections suggested the AKP, which won 34% of the vote in the general elections, would take over 40% in the local polls.

Its nearest rival, the social democratic People's Republican Party (CHP), the only other party in parliament, was expected to win between 13% and 19% of the vote.

Of the 18 other parties involved in the race, only the rightwing nationalist movement (MHP) and the centre-right True Path Party (DIY) might score more than 10% at the national level, according to early results.
 
The AKP also won races for mayor in at least 42 cities, including Turkey's largest - Istanbul and Ankara. The CHP won at least four cities, including Izmir, the country's third largest.

Turkey's main pro-Kurdish movement, the Democratic People's Party (DEHAP), which joined forces with several left-wing parties under the social-democrat people's party (SHP) banner, was expected to retain control of many municipalities in the Kurdish southeast.