Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday accused his political opponents of being behind a month of student protests rattling his 18-year rule, Agence France-Presse reported.
Erdoğan has launched daily verbal attacks on the demonstrations as they have grown in size and resulted in hundreds of arrests this week.
Most of those detained have been released, but the crackdown has hampered Erdoğan’s tentative efforts to repair Turkey’s relations with Western allies in the face of deep economic problems at home.
The protest movement kicked off when Erdoğan decided to appoint a party loyalist as the rector of İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University at the start of the year.
But it has since expanded to include support from some leftist political forces and unions.
The LGBT debate was thrust into the center of the political firestorm when Erdoğan lashed out at students for hanging a poster near the rector’s office depicting the movement’s rainbow flags at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.
Erdoğan said rallies that saw dozens detained in Istanbul and other big cities on Thursday were not driven by students but by outlawed Kurdish militants “in the mountains” and “some scholars.”
“The events at Boğaziçi are not related to our students there,” Erdoğan said after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul.
“Politics are leading the way there,” he said. “We will not allow the children there to be ‘sold’ to the terrorist organizations.”
Erdogan’s remark on Wednesday saying “There is no such thing” as the LGBT movement in Turkey drew sharp rebukes from the United States and European Union.
Washington said it “strongly condemns the anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric,” and Brussels said the “hate speech displayed by high-level officials … is unacceptable.”
But Erdoğan stood his ground on Friday.
“Don’t pay attention to what those lesbians say,” he told a group of supporters while promoting traditional family values later in the day.
He added that his Western critics had their own domestic problems to deal with.
“Aren’t you ashamed about what happened after the elections?” Erdogan asked in comments addressed to the United States.
And “Macron, you cannot resolve the yellow jackets protests,” he said addressing French President Emmanuel Macron in reference to the protest movement in France since late 2018.
“We don’t have such problems here,” Erdoğan said.