Twitter describes the Turkish minister’s LGBT contribution as hateful when college students protest

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bogazici University students protest a new rector and the imprisonment of their friends in Istanbul

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By Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Turkish Interior Minister on Tuesday called student protesters on Twitter “LGBT deviants” and urged the social media platform to rarely warn his comment.

“Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who insult the great Kaaba? Of course not,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in the statement on Twitter, referring to a shrine in Mecca, which is the holiest site in Islam.

Twitter said Soylu’s tweet, as well as another one over the weekend who used the same phrase, violated his rules about hateful behavior. The site said the posts were not removed because of a potential public interest in keeping them accessible.

Students and teachers at Istanbul’s Bogazici University protested last month against a government ban on demonstrations and the appointment of President Tayyip Erdogan as academic and former political candidate Melih Bulu as rector.

On Monday, students shared pictures on social media in which they placed a picture on the floor mixing LGBT symbols and Islamic images including the Kaaba shrine.

The police arrested four students during the day, and a total of 159 students, after breaking up a group planning a night watch in front of the rector’s office. Sixty-one were still in custody on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, academics gathered on the Bogazici campus and turned to the Rector’s building in protest. They sang “Melih Bulu resigns” and carried signs that read “159”, the number of inmates on Monday.

Hundreds also gathered in Istanbul’s Kadiköy district on Tuesday, wearing signs that read “LGBTQs will never go alone”.

Police dispersed the crowd with pepper spray projectiles and detained 104 people, the Istanbul governor’s office said.

Soylu said on live television Tuesday that it was his duty to protect families against “LGBT deviants”.

“I am a believer and in my opinion this is different. As a Muslim, it is my responsibility to say this to protect the family institution.”

Twitter failed to meet a Turkish requirement implemented last year for social media companies to appoint a representative in the country to handle content removal requests. The bandwidth can be reduced in the coming months.

In Ankara, the police clashed with demonstrators, some of whom sang, “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism.” Video images showed the police pulling protesters behind their backs with their hands tied. According to the state agency Anadolu, 69 people were arrested.

The government has criticized the protesters and Erdogan praised his party’s youth wing for “not being the LGBT youth”.

The main opposition CHP supported the protests and several parliamentarians from the pro-Kurdish HDP were turned away at the university entrance on Monday.

Erdogan’s critics say the president and his AK party, which promotes conservative Islamic values, have undermined social rights and tolerance. Erdogan’s supporters say he restored religious freedom in a once highly secular republic.

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