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Turkish opposition says it's leading after half Istanbul ballots recounted

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s main opposition party said on Saturday its candidate for mayor of Istanbul retained his narrow lead over President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party candidate after recounts in nearly half of the city’s ballot boxes.

The AKP, hurt by a slowing economy, is reeling from its apparent loss of Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial hub, and the capital Ankara, in Sunday’s local elections. It has appealed results across both cities.

In power nationally since 2002, the AKP and its Islamist predecessors have dominated Turkey’s two biggest cities for a quarter of a century.

The mayoral candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem Imamoglu, had a lead of 17,919 votes after recounts of around 49 percent of ballot boxes, the party said. That margin remains very slim in an election where both candidates polled over 4 million votes.

Imamoglu’s AKP rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, said on Friday that the margin was narrowing, adding that the outcome of the recount by the High Election Board (YSK) would be different once all recounts were completed.

CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said the party was confident that the initial results, showing victory for Imamoglu, would stand.

“We won’t let the election, which we have won, be stolen by anyone,” he said.

The AKP has said there are more than 300,000 invalid votes in Istanbul and just under 110,000 in Ankara. Party spokesman Omer Celik said on Saturday the party would respect the final decision of the High Election Board, which rules on appeals.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson