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Turkey's Kilicdaroglu accuses Russia of creating 'deepfakes' against opposition

The comments from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's main challenger come amid increasing scrutiny by the opposition of the current government's ties with Moscow.
: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the opening ceremony of the Turkstream Gas Pipeline Project on January 08, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. The TurkStream project comprises two underwater gas lines, each with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters. Gas will initially flow to Turkey, while a combination of existing and new pipelines will subsequently take supplies via Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary. Russia is building TurkStream and doubling

ANKARA — Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the top contender facing incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Russia on Thursday of fabricating deepfake videos with merely three days to go until the country’s critical elections this Sunday. 

In separate tweets posted in Turkish and Russian, Kilicdaroglu pointed fingers at Russia for meddling in the race by orchestrating deepfake content targeting former presidential candidate Muharrem Ince, who ended his campaign on Thursday. 

“Dear Russian friends, you are behind the fabrications, conspiracies, deepfake content and tapes that were exposed in this country yesterday. If you want the continuation of our friendship after May 15, take your hands off the Turkish state. We are still in favor of cooperation and friendship,” Kilicdaroglu wrote.

In a televised presser earlier Thursday, Ince announced he was  withdrawing from the four-candidate presidential race following a fabricated sex tape that circulated on the web, allegedly implicating him. Ince said he has been the target of a character assassination plot through a series of smear campaigns, including the release of the sex video, which he said was fabricated from an “Israeli porn site.” 

Ince, a former veteran of Kilicdaroglu’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also lashed out at his former party for smearing him, saying that they aimed to force him out of the race in favor of the main opposition leader.  

Kilicdaroglu didn’t elaborate on his accusations. Yet in remarks to Turkey’s Sozcu newspaper, another CHP member previously described unconfirmed reports of Russian meddling in the campaign. Erdogan Toprak said, “We think that some covert moves are underway aimed at the campaign. We don't want these. We want our centuries-old relationship to continue like this.” 

Erdogan's personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have come under scrutiny from the main opposition bloc due to an opaque mutual deal between Ankara and Moscow. 

Last week, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez confirmed that the Russian energy giant Gazprom agreed to defer a portion of Turkey's gas payments, without specifying the amount, in a deal which is widely seen as another economic boon from the Kremlin to Erdogan as he faces one his toughest re-election bids. 

Russia has been accused of meddling in the US presidential election in 2016 and in the French presidential election in 2017. 

Contacted by Al-Monitor, the Russian embassy in Ankara was not immediately available for comment. 

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