Turkey makes fresh arrests after US censure

Turkish police detain a woman during a demonstration outside the Bogazici University in Istanbul. (Photo by Bulent Kilic / AFP)

Police detained dozens of protesters across several cities on Thursday after Turkey brushed aside US condemnation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown on a month of escalating student rallies, AFP reported.

AFP reporters said they witnessed police using riot shields and batons to break up an unsanctioned event in İstanbul and lead away more than 20 people.

Security forces also set up ID checks at two major ports on the Asian and European sides of the Bosporus to prevent protesters from gathering for the events.

A crowd of leftist political groups and a few opposition lawmakers had come out in support of students protesting Erdoğan’s decision to name a party loyalist to head İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University last month.

Many students see Melih Bulu’s appointment as a part of Erdoğan’s broader push to seize control of various facets of Turks’ daily lives while in power for the past 18 years.

Student support groups on Thursday also reported at least 36 people were detained at rallies in the western cities of Bursa and Çanakkale as well as the Black Sea port of Samsun.

The students’ ability to thrust their demands into the center of Turkish politics and turn their cause into a national movement have echoes of 2013 demonstrations that first rattled Erdogan’s rule.

He had initially ignored the demonstrations and the strategy seemed to be paying off. The police fenced off Boğaziçi University’s campus and watched the protests slowly peter out.

But they exploded and turned more violent after police arrested four students over the weekend for displaying a poster depicting Islam’s holiest site covered in LGBT flags.

The police then broke into the campus grounds and arrested nearly 200 people on Monday night.

More demonstrations in İstanbul and Ankara this week saw the police fire rubber bullets and tear gas while being pelted with various objects by the crowds and their supporters in the surrounding buildings.

More than 500 people are known to have been detained in the past month.

‘Look in the mirror’

Erdoğan unleashed a furious attack on the students on Wednesday that Washington quickly condemned — an exchange that underscored the tougher line Turkey could face under the new administration of US President Joe Biden.

The Turkish leader compared some of the students to “terrorists” and called the LGBT cause incompatible with the country’s values.

“LGBT, there is no such thing,” Erdoğan said.

The US State Department said it was “concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn anti LGBTQIA rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations.”

The tough line marked a departure from the softer approach on human rights that Erdoğan enjoyed while cultivating a personal friendship with former president Donald Trump.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded on Thursday by telling “those who dare to teach a lesson of democracy and law… to look in the mirror”.

“No one should dare to interfere in Turkey’s domestic affairs,” it said in a statement.

Yet the students are slowly starting to win support in some leading Turkish political circles despite being ignored by pro-government TV stations and newspapers.

Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for the first time on Thursday called for the rector to resign.

“You cannot call people exercising their constitutional right [to protest] terrorists,” Kılıçdaroğlu told Erdoğan in televised comments.

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