(Reuters) – Turkish police detained 65 people late on Thursday over protests which first started last month at a top university, authorities said on Friday, continuing a crackdown on the protesters despite growing international criticism.
The Istanbul governor’s office said the protesters had violated a ban on public demonstrations, gatherings and marches imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by carrying out “illegal acts” in the Kadikoy district.
Some 600 people have been detained since January 4 after protests spread in Istanbul and Ankara, authorities have said. Most have been released, despite repeated statements from officials that the protesters are terrorists.
The protests were triggered by Erdogan’s appointment of a new rector at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, a process that students say was undemocratic.
The government has dismissed the criticism, saying the protests are politically driven. Officials have also deployed what the United States and United Nations have both described as homophobic rhetoric in their criticism of the students.
Officials have condemned an art display at the university, that included a picture blending Islamic and LGBT images. One minister labelled the protesters deviants.
The EU Commission said the detention of students “exercising their legitimate right to freedom of assembly” was deeply worrying, and the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a reason to silence critical voices.
“Hate speech displayed by high-level officials against LGBTI students during these events is unacceptable,” it said.
On Wednesday, Erdogan had said his government will not allow the protests to swell into a repeat of widespread demonstrations in 2013, calling protesters terrorists.
Asked about the international criticism on Friday, Erdogan said the United States should handle its own domestic issues, adding that the Bogazici protests “have nothing to do with the students whatsoever”, and were supported by opposition parties.
“Let me say this to the United States: Are you not ashamed of what happened in the United States before the election in terms of democracy?” he said, referring to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
“Racism reached a new high. How will you explain to the world how your police killed your Black citizens?” he told reporters in Istanbul.
-Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara