Turkey Arrests Scores Protesting Erdogan’s University Pick

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Turkey arrested more than 150 people peacefully protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a loyalist to head one of the nation’s top ranking universities.

Monday’s mass detentions at Bogazici University came hours before the Turkish leader went on national television to promise political reforms, including a new constitution.

In one video posted to social media, a policeman could be heard shouting, “Look down, don’t walk in groups!” before arresting dozens of students walking toward the university’s campus in Istanbul’s Besiktas district. The video stirred pushback from all walks of Turkish opposition, with lawyers, artists, and professors showing support for protesters under the #AsagiyaBakmayacagiz (We won’t look down) hashtag.

Turkish police called the slogan “a lie” in a tweet, posting a video of the same officer saying, “Go down.”

The growing mismatch between Erdogan’s pledges of change meant to repair ties with Western allies and the targeting of dissent at home has fueled allegations that the Turkish leader’s reformist agenda is just window-dressing.

“When we consider all the latest developments, I don’t think there will be a legal reform based on public accord,” said Gulfem Saydan Sanver, a political communication strategist based in Istanbul.

Students, professors and alumni have been protesting the appointment of rector Melih Bulu, a former ruling AK Party member, since early January. Police have raided some of the demonstrators’ homes.

Istanbul governor’s office said 57 of those detained on Monday are students at Bogazici University. Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT said 102 others who were detained weren’t affiliated with the institution. At least 98 “suspects” were later released, TRT said.

Last week, four Bogazici students were detained over an exhibition that included a piece of art depicting the LGBT rainbow alongside Kaaba, a holy Islamic site in Saudi Arabia.

“Four LGBT perverts were detained for disrespecting the Kaaba at Bogaziçi University,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted on Saturday. Twitter on Tuesday placed a disclaimer on the tweet, saying it violated its rules about hateful conduct.

Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s communications director, said the rector’s crackdown on the university’s LGBT club sparked the protests.

“As we speak of reforms, more democracy, new constitution, growth, and the spread of welfare to the base, they are trying to stir up the streets and coup-mongering,” he said on Twitter. “Our state is both powerful and fair.

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