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Turkey's Erdogan makes video appearance following health scare

After canceling a series of campaign events and travel over the past two days due to a health issue, Turkey's president seemed to be recovered but fatigued in a video appearance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks via a video link at the opening of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Turkey’s Mediterranean port city of Mersin, April 27, 2023.

ANKARA — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a video appearance on Thursday after canceling a series of campaign events and travel over the past two days for health reasons. The health saga comes at a critical time in Turkish politics, ahead of country's elections due to be held on May 14. 

Speaking via a video link at the opening of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in country's Mediterranean port city of Mersin, a seemingly recovered but fatigued Erdogan said the project was the biggest joint Turkish-Russian investment yet. Erdogan, 69 years old, spoke for six minutes. 

"Albeit after a 60-year delay, our country has entered the league of nuclear powers," Erdogan said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke virtually at the same event for 12 minutes.

Speaking earlier on Thursday, the country’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Erdogan had suffered from a gastrointestinal infection and that his overall health was good. “I was with him this morning. His health is quite fine,” he said.

Erdogan was expected to attend the Mersin event in person, but his travel plans were canceled after a live interview was disrupted abruptly on Tuesday night. The interview was cut short, with Erdogan citing a stomach cold and expressing his sadness at the disruption. "I will rest at home with the advice of my doctors," Erdogan wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

Thursday's event marked his first public appearance, albeit virtually, since the incident as all his other campaign events and travel plans were canceled, fueling speculation about his health on social media ahead of the critical May 14 elections. China's state TV station CGTN claimed on Wednesday that the president had suffered cardiac trouble.

The rumors prompted harsh denials from government officials late Wednesday. Omer Celik, spokesperson of the ruling party, lashed out at the allegations as “immoral.” 

It was still unclear on Thursday when Erdogan will return to the campaign trail in person. The Turkish leader is facing his closest election race since becoming president in 2014. Al-Monitor/Premise poll released on Thursday showed Erdogan in virtual tie with opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The Mersin project was initially touted as a big accomplishment for Erdogan, but the speculation over his health overshadowed the announcement. A Russian company is currently building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, on the country’s southern Mediterranean coast.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi attended the ceremony in person.

Erdogan and Putin held a phone conversation before the ceremony, the Turkish presidency's  communications directorate said. The two leaders discussed bilateral and regional developments including the wars in Ukraine and Syria, according to the Turkish readout. 

The images released by the directorate showed Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin with Erdogan during the call at his office. 

The country’s first nuclear power plant, with an ultimate capacity of 4,800 megawatts and four reactors, was built by Russia’s state-owned company Rosatom. The build-operate-transfer project has been granted a 49-year production license that expires in June 2066 under an agreement between Ankara and Moscow signed in 2010.

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