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Erdogan Set For Controversial Rally In Bosnian Capital

A sports hall in Sarajevo prepares for a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A sports hall in Sarajevo prepares for a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to hold an election rally in Sarajevo targeting expatriate Turks, an event being held in the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital after several European Union countries banned such demonstrations.

The rally in Sarajevo on May 20 comes ahead of Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 24.

Tensions rose last year between the EU and Turkey after many countries refused to allow the Turkish government to hold rallies ahead of a referendum, eventually won in Erdogan's favor, to widely expand the powers of the Turkish presidency.

Bosnian media report that some 20,000 people are expected to attend the rally in the city's Zetra sports center, where large portraits of Erdogan and Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were put up on May 19.

There are some 3 million Turks in Europe eligible to vote in Turkish elections, with the most, some 1.4 million, in Germany.

Austria and the Netherlands last month said they would ban any campaigning by Turkish politicians in their countries for the June elections.

However, Sarajevo has close relations with Ankara.

Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic attended the marriage of Erdogan's daughter in 2016.

Turkey also played a key role in the rebuilding of Bosnia after its near-destruction during the wars that broke out in the 1990s with the breakup of Yugoslavia.

"We will show that he [Erdogan] has friends and that there are those who are proud of him," Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said recently.

Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia, which consists of two autonomous entities -- the Muslim-Croat Federation whose population is made up of Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, and Republika Srpska, where Orthodox Serbs are a majority.

About half of Bosnia's 3.5 million citizens are Muslims, one-third are Serbs, while about 15 percent are Croats.

Some in Bosnia expressed opposition to the Erdogan rally.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik complained that the Turkish leader was "interfering a lot" in Bosnia's affairs.

Bosnia and much of the Balkans were ruled by the Ottomans for more than four centuries until 1878, and some critics referred to Erdogan’s action as "neo-Ottomanism."

With reporting by AFP, DW, and Ahval