Twitter labels Turkish minister's LGBT post hateful as students protest

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Intensifying weeks of tension at a top Istanbul university, Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday called student protesters “LGBT deviants” on Twitter, prompting the social media platform to put a rare warning on his comment.

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“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 that is Islam’s most sacred site.

Twitter said Soylu’s tweet, as well as another from the weekend that used the same phrase, violated its rules about hateful conduct. The site said it did not take down the posts because there was potential public interest in keeping them accessible.

Defying a government ban on demonstrations, students and teachers at Istanbul’s Bogazici University have held protests for the last month against President Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of academic and former political candidate Melih Bulu as rector, which they said was undemocratic.

On Monday, students shared images on social media of themselves placing a picture on the ground that mixed LGBT symbols and Islamic images including the Kaaba shrine.

Police detained four students then and a total of 159 throughout the day after breaking up a group planning an all-night vigil outside the rector’s office. Sixty-one were still in custody on Tuesday.

Academics gathered on Tuesday on the Bogazici campus with backs turned to the rector’s building in protest. They chanted “Melih Bulu resign,” and carried signs reading “159,” the number of those detained on Monday.

Hundreds also gathered in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district on Tuesday, carrying signs that said, “LGBTQs will never walk alone” among other slogans.

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

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

“I am a believer, and in my belief, this is deviant. As a Muslim, I am responsible to say this, to protect the institution of family.”

Twitter has not complied with a Turkish requirement implemented last year that social media firms appoint a representative in the country to deal with requests for content removal. Its bandwidth may be reduced in coming months.

In Ankara, police clashed with protesters, some of whom chanted: “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism.” Video images showed police dragging protesters away, hands cuffed behind their backs. State-owned Anadolu agency said 69 people were detained.

The government has criticised the protesters, with Erdogan praising his party’s youth wing for “not being the LGBT youth.”

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

Erdogan’s critics say the president and his AK Party, which promotes conservative Islamic values, have eroded social rights and tolerance. Erdogan’s supporters say he has restored freedom of religious expression in a once strongly secular republic.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean and Cynthia Osterman