ISTANBUL, Turkey– Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Turkey’s LGBT movement, accusing it of “vandalism” and distancing his party’s youth from its cause.
Erdogan’s nationally televised comments came after Turkish police detained four people over the weekend for depicting Islam’s holiest site with pictures of the LGBT rainbow flag during a student protest.
Students staged more protests at some Turkish university campuses after Erdogan’s latest politically incendiary remarks.
“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 said during a televised video linkup with members of his ruling AK Party.
“You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism. On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts,” he said.
Rights groups accuse Erdogan of taking the mostly Muslim but officially secular country on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.
Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history. But gay people often face harassment, and LGBT events — including Istanbul Pride — have been blocked under Erdogan.
Turkey was hit by a wave of student protests last month after Erdogan appointed a loyalist as the head of Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University.
They spread to some other universities before subsiding, after the deployment of a heavy Turkish police presence around campuses and on the streets.
During one demonstration last Friday, protestors hung artwork opposite the new rector’s office depicting the holy site in Mecca and images of the LGBT movement’s rainbow flag.
Turkish police accused four people of “inciting hatred in the population.” Two of them have been remanded in custody and the other two placed under house arrest.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu branded the suspects “four LGBT freaks.”
Last month’s student rallies had echoes of the 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 been trying to keep their protests going through a vigorous social media campaign that sidesteps Turkey’s overwhelmingly pro-government TV channels and newspapers.
A few dozen student protesters tried to hold another demonstration outside Istanbul university on Monday, in the presence of several hundred anti-riot police officers.
Several students were dragged away by the police. Images shared on social media suggested that dozens of arrests had been made.
Social media posts also showed police scuffling with a small group of rainbow flag-waving students in the Aegean resort city of Izmir.
Erdogan last month accused some of those taking part in the student demonstrations of being “terrorists.”