ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president on Friday rebuffed U.S. and European criticism of his government’s handling of weeks-long demonstrations at a top Istanbul university, saying they should focus on violent protests in their own countries instead.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan also vowed to show “no mercy” to protesters who use violence, and reiterated his determination not to allow the demonstrations spiral into mass anti-government protests like those that rocked the country in 2013.
Students and faculty members at Bogazici University have been demonstrating in protest of Erdogan’s Jan. 1 appointment as rector of an academic with links to his ruling party. They have been calling on rector Melih Bulu to step down and for the university to be allowed to select its own president.
Some of the protests have led to clashes with police, resulting in hundreds of arrests — although most of the detainees were later released. Protests have been staged in the capital, Ankara, as well as Izmir and other cities in support of the Bogazici students.
Erdogan and other government officials drew condemnation over the security forces’ often heavy-handed handling of the demonstrations and using anti-LGBT rhetoric to decry the protests, after an artwork depicting Islam’s most holiest site with LGBT flags was displayed at the university.
Speaking to reporters as he left a mosque following traditional Friday prayers, Erdogan rejected criticism from the U.S. and from EU officials.
“I will say this to America: aren’t you ashamed of the incidents in the United States before the elections?” Erdogan said, in refence to the violence on Capitol Hill. “Racism went over the roof,” he continued, alluding to anti-racism protests that swept the U.S. last year.
He also called on France to “sort out” protests by the yellow vest movement which has been calling for economic justice.
Later, in a video address to female members of his ruling party, Erdogan again accused the U.S. and European nations of double standards, for “crushing” protests in their countries but portraying as “innocent those who terrorize the streets” in Turkey.
“We will not show mercy toward those who have become the toy of organizations involved in terror and who regard the use of violence as a means of seeking justice,” he said. “We will grab hold of their collars and bring them to justice.”
On Friday, police broke up a protest by a small group of students on Ankara’s main commercial street in a show of solidarity with the Bogazici students. Several were detained, laid on the ground and handcuffed behind their backs.
An Associated Press journalist said some onlookers reacted to police, calling on them to leave the “youngsters” alone.