ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Erdogan’s main rival alleges Russia posting ‘deep fakes’ in lead-up to elections

Kemal Kilicdaroglu accuses Moscow of meddling after third-party candidate withdraws from race due to smear campaign; opinion surveys show opposition in slight lead over incumbent

Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP) chair and presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu gestures on stage during a rally in Kocaeli, Turkey, on April 28, 2023. (Yasin AKGUL/AFP)
File: Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP) chair and presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu gestures on stage during a rally in Kocaeli, Turkey, on April 28, 2023. (Yasin AKGUL/AFP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief rival accused Russia on Thursday of spreading “deep fakes” ahead of this weekend’s crucial general election.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s allegations came hours after a third-party candidate dropped out of the race after being targeted by an online smear campaign.

“Dear Russian friends,” Kilicdaroglu said on Twitter. “You are behind the montages, conspiracies, deep fakes and tapes that were exposed in this country yesterday,” he said without providing details.

“If you want our friendship after May 15, get your hands off the Turkish state. We are still in favor of cooperation and friendship.”

Polls show the secular opposition leader edging ahead of Erdogan in Sunday’s presidential ballot.

File: A woman stands in front of election campaign flags of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and a banner with a portrait of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hanging on historical Sur castle at the historical Sur district in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, on May 1, 2023. (ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP)

The election will go to a May 28 runoff if no candidate picks up more than 50 percent of the vote.

Kilicdaroglu’s comments came in the heat of an increasingly dirty campaign that saw third-party candidate Muharrem Ince pull out on Thursday.

Ince announced his decision after being targeted by an online campaign that included doctored images of him meeting women and riding around in fancy cars.

Polls show most of Ince’s support — measured at between two and four percent — likely going to Kilicdaroglu.

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