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Polling Stations Open In Europe For Turkish Referendum


Polling stations open today in Germany for a million and a half Turkish people who live there. Those voters will help decide whether Turkey gives its increasingly autocratic president even more power. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Frankfurt. The ex-pat vote is thought to be key in this Turkish election, but it has made relations difficult between Germany and Turkey.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A steady stream of Turkish voters living in the western German countryside board a bus bound for the Turkish Consulate in Frankfurt where they will cast ballots. One passenger is Sati Okor, who has lived in Germany for 22 years.

SATI OKOR: (Speaking German).

NELSON: In halting German, she tries to explain why the referendum that could give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the power to appoint ministers and judges and issue decrees is the most important election of her life. She says it's about freedom for Turkey and the future of her three German-born children who might want to go back some day.

OKOR: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Okor says, "I want to vote no."

OKOR: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "Erdogan," Okor adds, "is very much a dictator." This bus trip and two more planned in the coming days are organized by Murvet Ozturk, an independent lawmaker in the western state of Hessen who is trying to get out the no vote. She's a German of Turkish descent and, like many, is ineligible to vote in the referendum. But she is concerned enough about the proposed changes to the Turkish constitution to have helped launch a no campaign.

MURVET OZTURK: If we see the 18 paragraphs they want to change, it will give one person much more power, and it will take the power from the Parliament away. And this is not very democratic. And so one president will be a kind of sultan in modern Turkey. And this doesn't work.

NELSON: German officials are also unhappy with Erdogan's move which he says he needs to fight terror, provide stability and strengthen Turkey. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel objects to the growing crackdown in Turkey on government critics and even more to the Turkish president calling Merkel and other Germans Nazis for limiting pro-Erdogan campaign rallies here.

Silvia von Steinsdorff is a Turkey expert at Humboldt University in Berlin. She says while it may appear irrational for Erdogan to attack the German government while he is seeking concessions like visa-free travel, it may help increase the vote in his favor.

SILVIA VON STEINSDORFF: It's much more oriented towards the electorate in Turkey itself. In order to just build this case off the whole world, including, these Germans are against us, and we are the victims, and so we have to stick together and to overcome all these enemies and so on and so on.

NELSON: His supporters have campaigned tirelessly in Germany. One of them is Fatih Zingal, who is vice chair of the Union of European Turkish Democrats.

FATIH ZINGAL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Zingal confidently predicts that roughly 3 in 5 Turkish voters in Germany will vote yes. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Frankfurt.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARALD KINDSETH SONG, "KEFI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.