Turkey was awaiting results as polls closed in local elections in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had a central role, even though his name was not on the ballot paper.
Erdogan, who cast his vote at a polling station in Istanbul earlier on Sunday, has acknowledged that the local elections taking place across the country amount to a referendum on his rule.
“What the people say goes,” he said after casting his vote, adding that the people’s decision was to be “respected”.
The high-profile races to become mayor of Istanbul and Ankara, with incumbents from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym AKP), will be watched closely for signs of whether the prime minister’s popularity is waning.
Erdogan has been in power for more than a decade and is battling a corruption scandal that has seen the resignation of four ministers.
The head of Turkey’s main opposition party, meanwhile, cast his ballot at an elementary school in Ankara.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the People’s Republican Party (CHP), addressed crowds outside after voting, saying the elections were a “celebration of democracy”.
Election day violence
However, the vote was marred by violence, with eight people killed in fights between groups supporting rival candidates.
The Dogan news agency said six people died and four were wounded in the village of Yuvacik, in the southeastern Sanliurfa province.
Separately, in the southern city of Hatay, Dogan reported that rival families fought with clubs, knives and guns in a battle over their respective candidates. The agency said two people died and nine were injured.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), portrayed Erdogan as a corrupt “dictator” ready to hang on to power by any means. Capture of the capital Ankara or Istanbul would allow them to claim some form of victory.
Erdogan formed the AKP in 2001, attracting nationalists and centre-right economic reformers as well as religious conservatives who form his base. Since his 2011 poll victory, he has in his statements, moved more towards these core supporters.
The corruption scandal, also involving anonymous Internet postings of tapped state communications implicating Erdogan in corrupt actions he denies and media interventions he confirms, was all but eclipsed in recent days by the leaking of a recording of a top-level security meeting.
YouTube and Twitter blocked
In the recording, the intelligence chief, foreign minister and military commanders discussed possible armed intervention in Syria.
The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, allegedly talked about staging a fake attack on Turkish soil in order to start an operation on Syria.
It is unclear who recorded the meeting and posted it on YouTube – though officials point a finger at Gulen’s movement.
Erdogan describes the movement as a terrorist organisation in an “alliance of evil” with major opposition parties.