Turkey will launch new military operations “to clear its borders from terrorists”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed, as he unveiled his party’s manifesto in advance of next month’s snap elections.
Scheduled for June 24, the country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections more than a year before they were originally planned.
Speaking at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan, who is also the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party), said Turkey would launch new cross-border operations similar to its previous “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch” army campaigns.
The first one, which took place between August 2016 and March 2017, targeted ISIL and Kurdish fighters in Syria, while the second one pushed out the US-backed Kurdish group “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) from Afrin in northwestern Syria earlier this year.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign inside Turkey since 1984. Ankara has been infuriated with US support for the YPG.
“We shattered the terror corridor being formed on our southern border with these operations. Our soldiers, who lastly wrote an epic in Afrin, are ready for new missions,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters in Istanbul.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened in the past to expand the Afrin offensive to YPG-held Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, which has raised the concern of a confrontation with US forces there.
However, Ankara and Washington have reached an understanding on a plan in Manbij, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday, adding that the details were being discussed with Mike Pompeo, the new US secretary of state.
Reporting from Istanbul, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said that since a failed coup attempt in July 2016 Erdogan’s AK party has allied with the Nationalist Movement Party.
“And now, he (Erdogan) is a joint candidate for the presidential bid,” Koseoglu said.
“This nationalist score since the failed coup has actually dominated the ruling party’s political agenda and that’s why we have seen more eager statements about the operations that target the PKK and ISIL in northern Syria.”
Erdogan’s ruling AK party came to power in 2002 and has since remained the country’s biggest political force.
As part of his manifesto, Erdogan also pledged to decrease interest rates and inflation – a major problem for people in the country who have been facing higher food prices.
“He also vows that there will be more prosperity and more freedom in Turkey,” Koseoglu said.
“This discourse brought the AK party to become the government in 2002. But since the Gezi Park protests which took place in 2013, the government has been criticised by opponents and human rights organisations for its tough security measures and its restrictions on media.”
Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the coup bid, blamed by Ankara on the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based self-exiled religious leader. Gulen denies the charges.
In his speech, Erdogan said he had not given up on his goal of getting Turkey to join the European Union.
With the upcoming election, Turkey will switch from a parliamentary system to a presidential one that will increase the powers of the president.
The system was changed in an April 2017 referendum that was narrowly won by the government’s “yes” camp.
The constitutional changes passed in the vote give the next president new powers to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. They also allow the president to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and impose states of emergency.
Last month, a report by the European Commission said that under the state of emergency, more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say that some 40,000 have been reinstated in the process.
Turkey’s Western allies have repeatedly condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges after the coup attempt, with local and international rights groups accusing Ankara of using the attempted putsch as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
The government says that the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aim to remove Gulen’s supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.
Ankara blames its western allies for not understanding and taking seriously the “terrorist threat” on Turkey coming from the movement of Gulen and PKK.