ANKARA Embattled Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan withdrew from election rallies on Friday to rest his voice, his office said, after weeks of campaigning marred by leaks and corruption allegations which he has cast as a plot to unseat him.
Erdogan had difficulty speaking at rallies in southeastern Turkey on Thursday ahead of Sunday's local elections, his hoarse voice drawing ridicule from his detractors and pledges of solidarity from his die-hard supporters.
An official at Erdogan's office said he would rest in Istanbul while Friday's rallies in Konya and Kayseri go ahead, attended by ministers, MPs and municipality officials.
The elections will be the first test at the ballot box for Erdogan's AK Party since anti-government demonstrations last summer and a graft scandal that erupted in December and has seen a steady stream of leaked recordings emerge on social media.
Erdogan, who has delivered speeches at some 60 events around the country in recent weeks, denounced as "villainous" on Thursday the leaking on YouTube of a recording of top security officials discussing possible military action in Syria.
The posting took what Erdogan has cast as a campaign against him by his political enemies to a higher level, impinging on a highly sensitive top-level meeting.
Turkey's telecoms authority (TIB) blocked access to YouTube after the leak, a week after barring Twitter over what it said were violations of privacy.
Tech-savvy Turks quickly found ways around the Twitter ban, which stirred public outrage and international condemnation.
"Now I know what he did with the Twitter bird. Erdogan swallowed it," wrote one user as Erdogan addressed a rally in the eastern city of Van on Thursday, mocking the falsetto tones emanating from a man better known for his thunderous voice.
Erdogan's supporters had a different view of his affliction.
"You sacrificed your voice for us, we sacrifice our life for you," read the banner at a second rally in the city of Diyarbakir, where tens of thousands had gathered on Thursday.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall/Mark Heinrich)