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Turkish police clash with students protesting Erdogan-appointed university rector

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Students hold placards reading "We do not want the appointed Rector" as they demonstrate against the direct appointment of Bogazici university's new rector by Turkish President, on January 4, 2021 in front of the University in Istanbul. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish police forces have clashed with students who gathered outside one of the country's top universities to protest against the appointment of a political figure as the facility's new rector.

Police forces scuffled with protesters outside Bogazici University in the city of Istanbul on Monday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed Melih Bulu as the university’s new head by presidential decree.  

The move, which took place on Saturday, provoked angry protests at the entrance to the campus with students saying that the process was undemocratic and chanting, "Melih Bulu is not our rector" and "We don't want a state-appointed rector”.

Video footage showed protesters clashing with police. A number of students, who were able to enter the campus, sealed one of the university's buildings.

Bulu, a candidate standing for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the 2015 general and local elections, is the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980. He has a doctorate in business management.

In a statement shared on social media, Bogazici faculty students said they do not accept this appointment, stressing “it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values” of their university.

AKP spokesman Omer Celik has denied the appointment is a blow to academic freedom, saying "Every academic, like every person, is entitled to their political opinion”.

“We do not base appointments on the political affiliations of academics," he said at a news conference after an AK Party meeting chaired by Erdogan.

Turkey witnessed a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, when a faction of the Turkish military declared that the government of Erdogan was no more in charge of the country.

Since then, Turkish officials have arrested thousands of military figures, police officers, judiciary officials, academics and civil servants over affiliation to the network of US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom they accuse of having orchestrated the attempted coup.

Critics say Erdogan's government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent. The Turkish president says the purges are the only way to neutralize what he calls the threat posed by coup plotters.

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