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Turkey rejects criticism of its handling of student protest

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Police officers detain supporters of Bogazici University students following a protest in Istanbul, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. For weeks, students and faculty members of Bogazici University have been protesting Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Jan. 1 appointment as a rector of Melih Bulu, an academic who once ran for parliament as a candidate for Erdogan's party. Some of the protests have erupted into clashes between police and demonstrators and hundreds of people have been detained, some taken away following raids of their homes. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ANKARA – Turkey on Thursday rejected international criticism of its crackdown on protests by students opposing the appointment of a government loyalist to head Istanbul’s top university, warning countries to stay out of its domestic issues.

For weeks, students and faculty members of Bogazici University have been protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Jan. 1 appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic who once ran for parliament as a candidate for Erdogan’s party. They are calling for Bulu’s resignation as the university’s rector and for the university to be allowed to elect its own president.

Some of the protests have erupted into clashes between police and demonstrators and hundreds of people have been detained, some taken away following raids of their homes, even as Erdogan has promised reforms to strengthen democratic standards.

Officials from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have criticized Turkey’s handling of the protests as well as a series of anti-LGBT comments that were made by Erdogan and other officials while denouncing the demonstrations.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement defending the Turkish security forces’ actions, saying there were attempts by terrorist organizations to infiltrate and provoke the protests.

“We recommend that those who ... attempt to give our country lessons in democracy and law, turn the mirror on themselves,” the ministry said. “No one has the right to attempt to intervene in Turkey’s affairs.”

In a video-recorded statement, Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said Bulu’s appointment was in line with the president’s “constitutional mandate.”

He said “a small and radical group” was detained for criminal offenses, including depriving people of their physical freedom and damaging public property, after they surrounded a building housing Bulu’s office and attempted to raid it.