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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced student protesters as “terrorists" and vowed to crackdown on demonstrations opposing the appointment of a government loyalist to head Istanbul’s most prestigious university.
Students and faculty members of Bogazici University have spent weeks protesting Erdogan’s Jan. 1 appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic who once ran for parliament as a candidate for Erdogan’s party. They have called for Bulu to resign as the university’s rector and for the university to be allowed to elect its own president, saying the appointment was an affront to academic liberties.
Scores of students have been detained amid the protests, some taken away following raids of their homes.
“I do not accept these youngsters, who are members of terrorist groups, as sharing our country’s national and moral values,” Erdogan said in a video address to thousands of ruling party members who are holding regional congresses.
“Are you students... or are you terrorists who try to raid the office of the rector and occupy it?” he asked.
Erdogan went on to say that his government would not allow mass anti-government protests like the ones that swept across Turkey in 2013. The protests were sparked by the government's construction plans at Gezi Park, adjacent to Istanbul main Taksim square.
“This country won’t be a country dominated by terrorists. We will never allow it,” the Turkish leader said. “This country won’t re-live incidents such as the Gezi events at Taksim.”
Tensions flared this week after a group of students were arrested over a poster, which was displayed at Bogazici University, that depicted Islam’s most sacred site with LGBT rights flags. The students were arrested over the weekend on charges of inciting hatred and insulting religious values.
More than 250 demonstrators were detained following clashes with police in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday. Close to 70 were also detained in the capital, Ankara, on Tuesday during a demonstration organized in support of the Bogazici students.
Erdogan said LGBT values had “no place” in Turkey’s future.
Meanwhile, Bulu told reporters Wednesday that he does not intend to resign from his post as rector of the university, which is often described as the “Harvard of Turkey.”
He repeated that his aim was to make Bogazici one of the world’s top 100 universities.