Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 protesters over Erdogan-appointed university head

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Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded jail terms for 97 people who joined student protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a party loyalist as the rector of a top university.

The indictment said the suspects defied a ban on rallies imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Anadolu state news agency said.

Prosecutors are seeking jail terms from six months to three years because of the suspects’ non-compliance with a law on “unarmed participation in unlawful rallies and refusal to disperse despite the warnings,” Anadolu said.

No date was given for the first hearing.

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The protest movement – the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years – kicked off when the Turkish leader appointed longstanding ruling party member Melih Bulu as rector of Bogazici University at the start of the year.

The rallies began inside the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other big cities with the backing of government opponents.

The indictment specifically refers to a February 1 protest in Istanbul in which several groups defied police warnings and rallied outside the university’s locked gate.

Police roughly rounded up 108 people that day.

Ninety-seven of them were later released and a probe was launched against them by the prosecutor’s office, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries against the 11 remaining people, one of whom is underage.

The student demonstrations had echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.

He has compared student protesters to “terrorists” and the rector at the root of the demonstrations has refused to give in to demands to step down.

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