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Turkish Students Clash with Police in Anti-Government Protests

  • Dorian Jones

In Turkey if you are a government minister and visiting a university it is almost obligatory to take an umbrella. Following a crackdown on protesting students earlier this month, ministers have become the target for egg throwing students. But the government is calling for an end to such protests, warning that the demonstrating students face jail and claim there is a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Riot police clubbing and using pepper spray against demonstrating students. They were protesting earlier this month over the refusal by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow student representatives to attend a meeting he was holding with university rectors at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace. The students accuse police of using violence against peaceful protesters.

The student says we were kicked and beaten with batons and when they arrested us they put us on a police bus and filled it with pepper gas many of us fainted she says.

Tensions rose further when the media reported that one of the students, a pregnant 19-year-old, suffered a miscarriage as a result of the violence. The leader of the main opposition center left party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, strongly condemned the police, but blamed the government for the extreme reaction.

He asks how is it possible to use violence against those who are exercising their constitutional rights? They say we have a constitution, we have democracy we have the supremacy of law. He says "We don't have law, we have the law of the rulers, I call this democracy of batons."

But the government officials have dismissed such criticism and promised to maintain a hard line against the students. That tough stance has resulted in government ministers becoming the target of student protests

A government minister being pelted with eggs while addressing a student meeting at Ankara University. The minister was forced to take cover behind umbrellas The humiliating image has provoked further anger by the government which has promised severe punishment for the students. Addressing his deputies in parliament, Prime Minister Erdogan launched a withering attack on the students.

He says how can we talk with those young people who have no respect or patience for opposing ideas. He said that is prejudice, not freedom. Freedom is to be able to express your thoughts freely, not with stones and sticks and knives. That's what we have to overcome he says.

Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded a two-year jail sentence for a student who threw an egg in an earlier protest. A government minister warned that the student unrest could be a part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. That could mean that in the future, egg-throwing protestors could face anti terror laws. Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Bahcesehir University warns that the situation is getting out of control.

"These are not al-Qaida terrorists, they have demands about the high fees and lack of student housing and [these are] unfortunately not heard," said Cengiz Aktar. "And the students are very upset with this clumsiness, they may end up by provoking [a] mass demonstration by students I am afraid."

The last time there was major unrest among Turkish university students was in the 1970's, when hundreds died in political clashes. While analysts are not predicting a return to such turmoil, the government and students do appear engaged in a battle of wills.