ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish police used water cannon in the western coastal city of Izmir on Friday to disperse scores of protesters boycotting schools over the growing influence of religion in the classroom, local media reported.
Education is the latest flashpoint between the administration of President Tayyip Erdogan, and secularist Turks who accuse him of overseeing creeping ‘Islamization’ in the NATO member state.
Riot police were out in force on Izmir’s streets, with water cannon being used to disperse banner-waving demonstrators who had gathered in the center of the city, according to pictures from Dogan news agency. At least one person was seen being led away by plain clothes security officers.
Parts of some regular schools have been requisitioned to create more places for students in “Imam Hatip” religious schools championed by Erdogan, where girls and boys are taught separately. Almost 1 million students are enrolled in those schools, up from 65,000 when AKP came to power in 2002.
The boycott was organized in cities across the country by a teachers union and associations from the minority Alevi community, the Hurriyet Daily News website reported.
Around ten people in Istanbul were detained by police, the paper added. A Reuters witness said hundreds of people, mostly school students, joined one protest in the city.
In 2013 Turkey was widely condemned for the brutal suppression of anti-government protests which saw hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets.
Despite deepening polarization in the country, Erdogan remains hugely popular with his conservative religious voter base. But there is an increasing sense of hostility in some secularist parts of the population, disturbed by what they see as erosion of judicial independence.
Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton