Turkey's opposition bloc renews commitment to principles after split

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -The five remaining leaders of Turkey's opposition alliance renewed their commitment to its original principles on Saturday after one of the group's main members quit in disagreement over the candidate for presidential elections in May.

"The alliance is determined to continue its work in the same direction, in line with its foundation principles and objectives," the five said in a statement after holding a five-hour meeting.

The public split on Friday in the alliance of opposition parties followed months of simmering discord in the group, and was seen by analysts as a blow to opposition hopes of unseating President Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades.

Meral Aksener, leader of the centre-right nationalist IYI Party, the second-biggest in the alliance, announced on Friday the party was leaving the bloc.

She said that at a presidential candidate selection meeting this week, five parties in the alliance proposed Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), as their candidate.

Aksener accused members of the alliance of pressuring her party and defying the people's will, adding that she proposed Mansur Yavas and Ekrem Imamoglu, CHP mayors of capital Ankara and Istanbul respectively, as candidates.

The CHP has the largest voter base in the alliance.

Kilicdaroglu has said there is no room for political games in the alliance and signalled that more parties could join the bloc.

Erdogan said his ruling AK Party and its nationalist ally MHP will continue on their planned course and dismissed the opposition split, according to state-owned TRT Haber.

Opposition leaders said they will announce their joint candidate to challenge Erdogan on March 6.

Erdogan's popularity had been dipping amid a cost of living crisis even before last month's earthquakes that killed more than 45,000 people. However, analysts have said the opposition disagreement benefited the ruling alliance.

"The best hope for the crisis-struck opposition now is to keep Erdogan under 50% in the first round (of voting) and show unity in the second round," said Erdem Aydin, founder of London-based RDM Advisory.

"As things stand both IYI and CHP showed poor leadership and communications which culminated in a crisis ... Nobody wins in this scenario, except for Erdogan," Aydin added.

Separately, Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), a key actor in the bid to defeat Erdogan on May 14, called on the opposition to unite around democracy, justice and freedom.

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Frances Kerry and David Holmes)