ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he had “nothing to do” with the jailing of Istanbul’s popular opposition mayor — an outcome set to prevent the latter from standing in next June’s presidential election.
Ekrem Imamoglu’s sentence following a politically charged defamation trial has caused an international storm.
He was sent down for “insulting a public official” after dubbing city election officials “idiots” during a controversial 2019 mayoral race.
But Erdogan insisted he had no hand in the verdict.
“What is behind the storm sparked by a verdict these past few days? This debate has nothing to do with us — neither with me nor with our nation,” Erdogan insisted, in his first comments on the subject since Wednesday’s verdict.
“We laugh at all the false words uttered so surely” by those seeing a political maneuver in the sentence, he said.
“But we are sad to see that some are trying to conduct their games of thrones through us,” the president added, suggesting reactions to the verdict resulted from rivalries within the opposition.
Several tens of thousands of people demonstrated their backing on Thursday in Istanbul for Imamoglu, who established his credentials as an opposition figure with the heft to break Erdogan’s two-decade domination of Turkish politics after his mayoral success.
Imamoglu’s conviction has been met with international criticism.
The United States on Thursday declared itself “deeply troubled and disappointed” with his two years and seven months’ jail term and associated ban from political activity, set to deny him a tilt at the presidency.
Germany meanwhile hit out at a “harsh blow for democracy.”
Erdogan announced in June that he will stand again next year but a six-party-strong opposition alliance has yet to designate a joint candidate.
“What does it matter to us who the opposition candidate will be,” Erdogan pondered rhetorically, as he urged the opposition to have “the courage” to select its candidate.