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Turkish teacher to serve year in prison for insulting President Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (L) places a carnation as he visits the site of Tuesday's suicide bomb attack at Sultanahmet square in Istanbul, Turkey January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Lefteris Pitarakis/Pool

ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced a female teacher to almost a year in prison for making a rude gesture at President Tayyip Erdogan at a political rally in 2014, local media reports said on Wednesday.

Insulting public officials is a crime in Turkey, and Erdogan, the country’s most popular but most divisive politician, is seen by his critics as intolerant of dissent and quick to take legal action over perceived slurs.

After a rally in the Aegean city of Izmir in 2014 when he was prime minister, Erdogan lashed out at the female teacher and said she made a gesture at him that typified the rudeness of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“Today as I was arriving (there was) a woman on a balcony,” he said. “She made such an ugly gesture with her hand. There you go, that is the CHP. I mean the country’s prime minister is passing by and you make that gesture with your hand and arm.”

The teacher, who pleaded not guilty at the hearing, will serve 11 months and 20 days in jail, the Dogan news agency said.

Earlier this week, lawyers for Erdogan filed a lawsuit against the main opposition leader for saying that Erdogan was a dictator, presidential sources and the opposition party said.

Last week he urged prosecutors to investigate scores of academics for signing a declaration criticizing military action in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

Last Friday Turkish security forces briefly detained 27 academics accused of terrorist propaganda. Erdogan denounced the more than 1,000 signatories of the petition, who include U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, as “dark, nefarious and brutal”.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, first as prime minister and since 2014 as its first popularly elected president, has sued a number of people in the past, including cartoonists, teenagers and a former Miss Turkey winner.

Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan and Hugh Lawson