November 14, 2019 / 6:13 PM / a month ago

Istanbul mayor seeks to bond with investors on London charm offensive

LONDON (Reuters) - Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a political opponent of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said on Thursday he was on a mission in London to allay investor concerns over negative headlines about Turkey and predicted its economic woes were temporary.

Turkey’s relationship with Western allies has soured over a raft of issues in recent months. They widely condemned Ankara’s military push into Syria, while Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system raised hackles with its NATO partners, and could trigger sanctions from Washington - potentially hammering its already fragile economy.

“We are here to ease any problematic perspectives that will form in peoples’ minds given some current questions,” Imamoglu told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of his London visit where he is expected to meet with major investment firms from Goldman Sachs to JPMorgan and BlackRock to Blackstone.

“Today we are speaking of an [economic] slowdown, and it is true that foreign policy has had an effect. We have to think that all of this is temporary,” said the mayor of Istanbul, home to one-fifth of Turkey’s 82 million people.

Turkey has seen its currency weaken for seven straight years and relies heavily on foreign investor flows. The mayor’s London visit came with Istanbul in talks to borrow in international markets to finance ongoing rail projects.

Imamoglu was elected Istanbul’s mayor in June after a re-run vote that shocked Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, which with its predecessors had run Turkey’s largest city for decades.

Imamoglu is seen by some as a contender for president under his opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and he has toured European capitals to meet his mayoral counterparts, investors and Turks abroad.

In Berlin he chatted with German Chancellor Merkel at celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. His trip to Paris earned him a 86-million-euro loan deal from the French Development Agency for the Istanbul metro.

Asked if his visit was part of an effort to clear the path for his entry into national politics, Imamoglu said his immediate focus was “governing Istanbul and serving Istanbul”. However, he also predicted that political change was on the cards.

“Change includes a lot of things and of course this includes a change of government. The current spirit in Istanbul has emerged with the administration changing there.”

FILE PHOTO: Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu speaks after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, Germany, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Speaking about the Syrian refugee crisis, Imamoglu said most countries were focused on their own interests while Turkey needed help from European countries to deal with the situation.

“There are very high level problems with the way the world is looking at this process... These people should absolutely return to their homeland and at the end of the day the conditions for them to form their own lives should be ensured.”

The EU relies on Ankara, which hosts more than 3.5 million refugees - many of them in Istanbul - to curb the arrival of migrants into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean sea route.

Reporting by Yoruk Bahceli and Karin Strohecker Writing by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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