Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has removed Melih Bulu as the rector of a top Istanbul university, an appointment that has sparked months of protests and hundreds of arrests.
A presidential decree published in the Official Gazette on Thursday announced the decision. It did not provide a reason for the change or any further details.
The appointment of Bulu, an academic and former political candidate, to the post at Bogazici University has been criticised as undemocratic and the protests began against the move in early January.
The protest movement, the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years, kicked off on the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other big cities with the backing of government opponents and supporters of broader LGBTQ rights.
Erdogan’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, branded demonstrators “LGBT deviants” in a tweet after images were shared on social media of protesters laying a picture on the ground that mixed sacred Islamic imagery with symbols supporting LGBTQ issues. Protesters denied any intention to cause offence to Islam.
The student demonstrations had echoes of 2013 anti-government Gezi protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally.
Erdogan compared Bogazici student protesters with “terrorists” earlier in the year and Bulu, the rector at the root of the demonstrations, refused to give in to demands to step down.
Bulu, who applied to be a candidate for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in the 2015 parliamentary election, was the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Bogazici faculty members said.
A decree in 2016 during the state of emergency imposed following the failed coup attempt in July of that year granted the president the authority to appoint university rectors.
Bulu’s deputy, Mehmet Naci Inci, was named acting rector until a new appointment is made.