People attend rally in support of Istanbul's new mayor Ekrem Imamoglu on Sunday. Photo: Emrah Oprukcu / NurPhoto

The new mayor of Istanbul rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters on Sunday to mark a “new beginning,” urging citizens to come together after his contested victory against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party.

Ekrem Imamoglu, 49, of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), narrowly edged out his rival to secure the Istanbul mayor’s office, a major setback for Erdogan’s AKP after a decade and a half in power.

As Imamoglu addressed the Istanbul rally, over in Ankara, the capital, the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was punched and kicked by a mob during a funeral for a soldier killed in fighting with Kurdish rebels.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is still seeking a rerun of the March 31 Istanbul ballot, but electoral authorities last week handed Imamoglu his mandate after he won a slim 13,000-vote lead over AKP’s Binali Yildirim.

Waving Turkish flags and portraits of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, thousands of Imamoglu supporters packed the vast Maltepe shoreside area on the Asian side of Istanbul for the rally.

Imamoglu, a soft-spoken former district mayor who struck a conciliatory tone throughout the heated race, has vowed to serve all citizens of the 16-million strong city, regardless of their political inclinations.

“I will work, produce solutions and achieve results. This is my promise to each and every one of the 16 million Istanbul people,” he told the rally.

“Nobody will be discriminated against.”

Imamoglu vowed an “accountable and transparent municipality,” saying: “We will not waste a single penny.”

Imamoglu, who will govern the city for the next five years, said the Maltepe rally was not a political gathering, but a way to introduce the city’s new administration to the people of Istanbul.

“He is a man who can easily talk with people and never turns his back on them. He is a man of the people,” said Refika, a 70-year-old woman who joined the rally.

For his supporters, Erdogan remains the strong leader Turkey needs and one who speaks for religiously conservative Turks.

Erdogan’s critics say he has undermined the rule of law with a crackdown on dissent and sowed division by accusing his opponents of being enemies of the state.

– with reporting by AFP

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