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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan suggested on Tuesday new regulations could be drawn up to stop male and female students living together, triggering accusations of religiously inspired interference in private life.
Erdogan said the government had already shut down mixed accommodation in 75 percent of state-run student dormitories and would continue to do so, adding he could also authorize local governors to intervene if there were complaints about male and female students sharing private accommodation.
"How come a girl and a boy can stay together in a private property? Can you tolerate such a thing for your daughter or your son," Erdogan asked at a news conference, before leaving on an official visit to Finland.
"As a conservative democratic government ... if a legal regulation is needed, we will make the relevant regulations."
Critics of Erdogan, whose roots are in Islamist politics, have frequently accused him of puritanical intrusiveness into private life, from his advice to women on the number of children they should have to his views on abortion.
In power for more than a decade, his AK Party has increased its share of the vote in each of the past three elections, ushered in unprecedented political stability and overseen some of the fastest economic growth in Europe.
But it was shaken by the fiercest anti-government protests in decades over the summer, in which demonstrators took to the streets night after night in a show of defiance at what they see as his creeping authoritarianism.
Erdogan's views on mixed student accommodation started appearing in Turkish newspapers after leaking out of a closed-door meeting of the AK Party over the weekend. His aides had sought to play down the issue, saying he was referring only to student dormitories that were not properly registered.
The head of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) - the party of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern secular republic on the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy in 1923 - accused Erdogan of pursuing an Islamist agenda.
"They have a plan in the back of their minds ... they want to turn Turkey into a Middle Eastern country," Kemal Kilicdaroglu told a CHP parliamentary meeting in Ankara.
"All our citizens, especially our women, should be aware."
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton