Turkey's student protests turn increasingly violent

Turkey has been hit by weeks of rallies across major campuses against Erdogan's appointment of a party loyalist to head Istanbul's exclusive Bogazici University at the start of the year.

Turkish Police detained activists supporting Bogazici University students protesting against the appointment by the Turkish government of a new rector in Ankara on February 2, 2021. Picture: Adem Altan / AFP.

ISTANBUL - Turkish police fired tear gas on Tuesday and chased protesters down narrow Istanbul street as weeks of student protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's appointment of a university rector turned increasingly violent.

Turkey has been hit by weeks of rallies across major campuses against Erdogan's appointment of a party loyalist to head Istanbul's exclusive Bogazici University at the start of the year.

Police detained 159 students after storming a protest staged inside the fenced-off campus on Monday night.

AFP reporters saw plainclothes police drag away dozens of students when they tried to march along a central street in the capital Ankara on Tuesday.

Police fired tear gas and used riot shields to disperse a crowd of around 1,000 people -- some carrying LGBT rainbow flags in support of past detainees --- when they tried to stage a demonstration on the Asian side of Istanbul later in the day.

An AFP reporter estimated that 50 to 60 people had been detained in Istanbul by Tuesday evening.

The rally had been banned on coronavirus grounds but several opposition lawmakers still turned up.

The standoff over the rector gained a new dimension when protesters hung a poster near his office depicting Islam's holiest site covered in LGBT imagery last week.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted on Saturday that "four LGBT freaks" had been detained for "inciting hatred" with their poster.

Twitter took the rare step of hiding that message under a warning that it violated the platform's "rules about hateful conduct" -- the same thing it did to tweets from former US President Donald Trump before banning him last month.

Soylu posted a new message on Tuesday asking why Turkey should "tolerate LGBT deviants".

Twitter hid that message under another "hateful content" warning that requires an extra click to see what the minister said.

‘VANDALISM’

The youth-driven demonstrations have echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and presenting a direct challenge to Erdogan's rule.

Students have relied heavily on Twitter to get their message out.

Most Turkish television stations and newspapers are controlled by government allies and the demonstrations have barely been mentioned by state media.

And the bond between Turkish protesters and Twitter appears to be growing stronger by the day.

Twitter has been one of the few platforms to resist a new Turkish requirement for social media giants to appoint local representatives who can quickly follow court orders to take down contentious posts.

Turkey hit Twitter with an advertising ban as punishment last month.

Twitter's continued resistance could make it effectively inaccessible inside Turkey should officials follow through on threats to cut off its bandwidth by 90 percent in May.

Major platforms such as Facebook and TikTok have appointed local envoys and will avoid future fines and bans.

Soylu's tweets add to the social pressure on the LGBT community under Erdogan's increasingly conservative rule.

Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey's history but Istanbul Pride has been banned since 2016.

Erdogan on Monday accused the LGBT protesters of "vandalism".

"We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation's glorious past," Erdogan told his supporters.

Soylu has not publicly commented on Twitter's decision to hide his posts.

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