Deadly Fighting Marks Day Before Elections in Turkey

Deadly fighting between political rivals on Saturday marred the final day of campaigning for local elections expected to deliver an endorsement of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's (search) first year in office.

A local official of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (search) in a poor neighborhood of Istanbul was killed early Saturday in a shootout with supporters of a far-right party, Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah said. Five people were injured in the fighting over where each party should hang posters in the district.

Some 43 million people will vote for mayors and other local administrators in Sunday's elections. Preliminary results are expected late Sunday, with unofficial, final results early Monday.

Erdogan's year in office has coincided with economic stability, with inflation at its lowest level in decades. The government has won praise for reforms aimed at bringing the country closer to a long-standing dream of European Union (search) membership.

A recent opinion poll indicated that Erdogan's party, which has roots in Turkey's Islamic movement, was set to win with 68 percent of the votes in Ankara and 58 percent in Istanbul.

Some worry that high popularity levels could embolden the premier to push through a religious agenda, although the same fears proved unfounded after the party won November 2002 general elections, gaining a huge majority in parliament.

"Although nobody can name concrete policies that show the party is still a fundamentalist party, the worries are still there, even if at a decreasing level," wrote Cuneyt Ulsever, political commentator for the Turkish Daily News.

Erdogan, who came to power last March, insists his party does not have a religious agenda.

Much of Erdogan's party's popularity in the local elections rests on its ability to run the cities well. The party has also increased popularity by distributing free food and coal.

"Turkey finally has a government that doesn't forget its people," Erdogan told supporters Saturday in his hometown of Rize.