Erdoğan says Turkish protests not led by students

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said it was incorrect to say that protests organised in Istanbul and other major cities were being led by students.

“It is not possible to define and accept the goings on at Boğaziçi University as an event of our students there,” Erdoğan told reporters in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district after attending Friday prayers.

Turkish university students and other youth groups have been demonstrating against Erdoğan’s appointment of a party loyalist as rector of Boğaziçi, one of Turkey’s best-known universities, in early January.  

Erdoğan said the protests were motivated by politics, referring to statements made by officials of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) at a rally in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district on Thursday.  

While speaking to reporters after the Friday prayers, Erdoğan also attacked Turkish businessperson, rights defender Osman Kavala's wife, Ayşe Buğra Kavala who is an academic at the Boğaziçi University. Erdoğan, without citing Ayşe Buğra Kavala's name, said, “the wife of the representative of Soros is there among provocateurs too.”

Ayşe Buğra has been teaching political economy at Boğaziçi since 1985 and is a respected economist and author of economy books.

Erdoğan accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey designates a terrorist group along with the United States and the European Union.

Turkish government officials have also laid the blame for the protests on “deviant” LGBT activists and the far left.

The United States and the European Union have criticised a heavy-handed police crackdown on the demonstrations and called on the government to respect human rights.

The EU said on Thursday that students were exercising their legitimate right to protest.

Erdoğan also spoke about his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, saying Macron had “yet to learn how this business works.”

The Turkish president’s comments referred to Macron calling on Turkey to withdraw its troops from war-torn Libya, ahead of planned elections for the end of the year.

“Turkey is not (in Libya) for fun,” Erdoğan said. “There are soldiers from many foreign countries there. From Chad. From Mali, which they themselves occupied.”

Continuing to press on Macron and France, Erdoğan added: “What were they doing in Mali? In Chad? First (Macron) should account for these.”

Turkey “goes to countries for peace,” Erdoğan said. “We are in Libya upon Libya’s invitation. We are there to ensure unity and establish peace of mind for the Libyan people at once.”