Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appeared in public for the first time in three days after a stomach infection kept him off the campaign trail before key presidential and parliamentary polls on May 14.
Smiling and dressed in a red windbreaker, the 69-year-old leader walked out on the stage of an Istanbul aviation festival and tossed out flowers to flag-waving supporters.
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He arrived to the event on Saturday with his close ally, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
Both countries have fought wars using Turkey’s combat drones, which will feature prominently at the weekend aviation event.
Erdogan had been laying low since getting sick live on television on Tuesday night. Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said Erdogan is suffering from gastroenteritis.
The digestive problem is easily treated and usually clears up in a few days.
However, it has disrupted Erdogan’s attempts to seize momentum in the run-up to Turkey’s most important election in generations in approximately two weeks.
Erdogan looked healthy addressing the crowd with a microphone in his hand, describing government efforts to help the victims of a massive February earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives. But he refrained from addressing his absence or the health scare.
Surveys say Kilicdaroglu in lead
Erdogan’s illness came at one of the more vulnerable moments of his two-decade rule.
Most polls show Erdogan slightly behind the main opposition alliance’s candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
His conservative party’s control of parliament through an alliance with ultra-nationalist group Nationalist Movement Party is also under threat.
Kilicdaroglu has formed the type of broad-based coalition that Erdogan had mastered in crafting over 20 years.
The opposition alliance includes some of Erdogan’s former allies, liberals, conservatives and nationalists. Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party also announced backing for Kilicdaroglu although it is not officially in the opposition alliance.
Erdogan had appeared in five cities for his campaign over two days before getting sick on late-night TV. He tried to compensate by appearing at events by video link.
The president has recently decided against playing music at his appearances out of respect for the victims in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake across swathes of Turkey’s southeast.
He has instead focused on listing his achievements, including the construction of millions of new houses, and his push to resurrect Turkey’s military might.