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Turkey's election board showed lack of transparency - OSCE observers

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's High Election Board (YSK) showed lack of transparency in its handling of Sunday's elections and biased state media coverage of the contest was a concern, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.

An OSCE delegation said current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country's ruling parties enjoyed an unjustified advantage over opposition parties who had faced unequal conditions for campaigning.

The findings were issued at a press conference on Monday by a joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

"I regret to note that the election administration's work was lacking in transparency, as well as the overwhelming bias of the public media and the limitations to freedom of speech," Ambassador Jan Petersen, head of the ODIHR election observation mission, told the Ankara press conference.

Petersen said the general elections were "mostly peaceful" despite a number of incidents and the YSK had worked efficiently. The delegation praised the high turnout, stating that it was a clear indicator of a "strong democratic spirit".

"The process for handling complaints at all levels of the election administration lacked transparency and the Supreme Electoral Council decisions that were published generally were not sufficiently reasoned," the International Election Observation Mission report stated.

The election board confirmed a May 28 runoff between Erdogan and opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu after neither candidate secured the 50% threshold to win in the presidential contest. With 99% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.4% of the vote over Kilicdaroglu's 44.96% share.

In the parliamentary vote, the People's Alliance including Erdogan's AKP party appeared headed for a majority.

"Turkish democracy is proving to be amazingly resilient. This election had a high turnout and offered a real choice. However, Türkiye does not fulfil the basic principles for holding a democratic election," said Frank Schawabe, head of the PACE delegation.

He called on the Turkish government to ensure press freedom, adding that favourable coverage of Erdogan and ruling parties by the Turkish state broadcaster amounted to censorship.

The mission, which deployed 401 observers from 40 countries across the country, said widespread intimidation was faced by the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP), without saying who was responsible. Some opposition politicians were subject to restrictions, it added, without elaborating.

The delegation called on authorities to take concrete steps to guarantee a higher turnout in cities affected by a massive earthquake that hit southeast Turkey in February.

The OSCE mission said it would pay close attention to the May 28 presidential runoff.

Farah Karimi, head of the OSCE PA delegation, said denial of accreditation to Danish parliamentarian Soren Sondergaard and Swedish parliamentarian Kadir Kasirga as election observers by the Turkish authorities was a "regrettable decision."

(Reporting by Burcu Karakas, Editing by William Maclean)