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Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a meeting to launch his election campaign in Istanbul July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Murad Sezer


ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has turned down a donation to his campaign war-chest for August's presidential election from an unusual source - his main rival.

Leading opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu on Monday surprised his two opponents by donating 1,000 Turkish lira ($470) to each of their campaign funds, in what his supporters described as a fair play gesture.

Ihsanoglu is the joint candidate for the country's secularist and nationalist parties, and his office said the academic, diplomat and former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) made the symbolic gesture "to encourage a gentleman-like period of campaigning".

Polls show Ihsanoglu, who is seen as above the rough-and-tumble of Turkish domestic politics, has a mountain to climb if he is to overturn Erdogan's 20-point lead.

His largesse met a mixed reaction, with some taking to social media to mock him for the move.

"Ihsanoglu donated to rivals' campaigns? How naive! And what a sweet little baby," wrote one Turkish Twitter user.

Erdogan's lawyer confirmed the sum was returned at the request of the prime minister. Ihsanoglu's other rival was more amenable to the idea, using the gesture to have a dig at the wealth allegedly amassed by Erdogan during 12 years in power.

"Professor, you went to the trouble, thank you," Kurdish presidential hopeful Selahattin Demirtas wrote in a tweet that was shared more than 4,000 times.

"But the other candidate has a lot (of money), feel free to donate it all to me."

(Writing by Ece Toksabay and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mark Trevelyan)

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