Reuters International

Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu speaks to the media after his meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's main opposition will not mount a legal challenge against a bill to change the constitution and usher in a stronger presidency, its leader said on Tuesday, clearing the way for a referendum on April 16.

The secular Republican People's Party (CHP) had been widely expected to challenge the bill in Turkey's constitutional court. Opposition politicians fear it would hand too much power to President Tayyip Erdogan. But CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Tuesday said the issue should be settled by voters.

"We have the option of taking the planned changes to the constitutional court, but the issue here is not only a legal issue. The issue should be taken up by the people, and solved politically," Kilicdaroglu told his parliamentary group.

"Thus we will leave the issue to the decision of the people on April 16."

In response to CHP's decision, "They must have noticed that they can not achieve anything through the constitutional court," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

The proposed constitutional reform would mark one of the biggest changes in the European Union candidate country's system of governance since the modern republic was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman empire almost a century ago.

It would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, and appoint ministers and top state officials. It could also see Erdogan remain in power in the NATO member state until 2029.

Erdogan's supporters see the plans as a guarantee of stability at a time of turmoil, with Turkey's security threatened by the wars in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and by a spate of Islamic State and Kurdish militant attacks.

Opponents fear a lurch towards authoritarianism in a nation which has seen tens of thousands of people, from teachers and journalists to soldiers and police, detained since a failed coup attempt last July.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan)

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