Turkish opposition supporters voice dismay over presidential vote

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By Burcu Karakas and Mehmet Emin Caliskan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Opposition voters expressed dismay and disbelief on Monday after Tayyip Erdogan took a solid lead in the first round of Turkey's election, while the president's overjoyed supporters expressed confidence that he would prevail in the May 28 runoff.

"Until now I have witnessed many elections. My 14-year-old daughter who waited up all night for the election results went to bed disappointed. They have left me devastated this time," said 55-year-old Menser Ozakdag, a taxi driver.

"All I want is freedom, democracy, justice... I wish I had been born in another country," he said.

By contrast, Erdogan voters were upbeat about his chances of extending his 20-year rule into a third decade in the runoff vote against main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

"In the second round of the presidential election, Tayyip Erdogan will sweep to victory," said retiree Sabri Seker.

The mood in the opposition camp was subdued overnight as votes were being counted. Before the election, opinion polls had put Kilicdaroglu slightly ahead, with two polls on Friday showing him above the 50% threshold to win outright.

The opposition had expected to benefit from voter anger over Turkey's economic woes after an unorthodox policy of low interest rates triggered a lira crisis and soaring inflation. A slow government response to earthquakes that killed 50,000 people in February had also been expected to influence voters.

DEFIANCE

Some opposition supporters remained defiantly hopeful that Kilicdaroglu, candidate of the six-party Nation Alliance, could win in the second round. He has promised to revive democracy after years of increasingly authoritarian rule under Erdogan.

"Nothing stays the same. I believe there are people in Turkey to resist all this corruption, injustice, repression and fascist regime," Huseyin Koseoglu said. "And I believe with the support of these people, the second round will be won by the Nation Alliance."

However Firdevs Aydin, a 55-year-old retiree, did not share that optimism.

"I am very disappointed. Even though I knew it could go to a second round, I also believed that Kilicdaroglu would be ahead of Erdogan (in the first round)," she said.

With 99% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.4 of votes and Kilicdaroglu on 44.96%, High Election Board chairman Ahmet Yener said.

Pro-government media cheered the outcome, with Yeni Safak newspaper proclaiming "The people won", referring to Erdogan's People's Alliance, which seemed to have won a majority in the new parliament, boosting his hopes for the presidential runoff.

The results suggested Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party had been able to rally conservative voters despite the cost-of-living crisis.

The prospect of five more years of Erdogan as president will be upsetting for civil rights activists campaigning for reforms to undo the damage they say he has done to Turkey's democracy.

Erdogan has amassed power around an executive presidency, muzzled dissent and seized control of the media, judiciary and the economy.

Victory for Erdogan on May 28 would also dash the hopes of thousands of political prisoners and activists of being released from jail.

(Reporting by Burcu Karakas and Mehmet Emin; Writing by Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones)