President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday blasted the LGBT movement as incompatible with Turkey's values and compared student protesters to "terrorists", as a month of youth-driven rallies shook his rule.
More than 300 students and their supporters were detained in Istanbul and the capital Ankara in increasingly violent and politically-charged altercations with the police this week.
The protests first erupted after Erdogan named party loyalist Melih Bulu as the head of Istanbul's elite Bogazici University at the start of the year.
The appointment created a stir because students saw it as part of Erdogan's broader effort to centralise control over most facets of Turks' daily lives.
Erdogan lashed out on Wednesday in one of his most heated attacks to date against a movement that threatens to grow into a serious challenge to his 18 years in power.
"Are you students or terrorists who dare to raid the room of the rector?" Erdogan demanded in a televised video linkup with his party faithful.
"This country will not be a place where terrorists prevail. We will never allow this."
The student demonstrations have echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.
- US condemnation -
The dispute over the rector intensified after protesters hung a poster near his office depicting Islam's holiest site covered in LGBT imagery last week.
Erdogan on Monday distanced his party's supporters from what he dubbed the protest movement's "LGBT youth".
He redoubled those attacks on Wednesday.
"The LGBT, there is no such thing," he said dismissively. "This country is ... moral, and it will walk to the future with these values."
The comments appeared to undermine Erdogan's efforts to build up a rapport with the new and potentially hostile US administration of President Joe Biden.
The US State Department swiftly condemned Erdogan's "rhetoric" as unacceptable.
"We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti LGBTQIA rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
- 'No thoughts of resigning'-
Erdogan's comments came a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of over 1,000 in Istanbul and several hundred in Ankara.
Police reported making more than 170 arrests.
The students' cause has been picked up by some unions and rights group as well as a popular social media campaign that sidesteps the largely pro-government media.
Erdogan himself pointed to the similarities between these protests and the ones that broke out in 2013 in support of Gezi Park.
"This country will never experience another Gezi event," Erdogan vowed.
Erdogan's ultra-nationalist coalition ally Devlet Bahceli called the protesters "poisonous snakes whose heads must be crushed".
And the rector at the heart of the protests vowed to hold his ground and not give in to demands to quit.
"I never think about resigning," Bulu told the HaberTurk daily. "I initially predicted this crisis would be over within six months and it will be so."
The LGBT movement was not initially spearheading the protests against the rector and Erdogan's policies as a whole.
But the scandal over the poster has thrust it to the centre of Turkish politics and seen it come under growing attack from top officials.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted on Saturday that "four LGBT freaks" had been detained for "inciting hatred" with their poster.
Twitter hid that post and a similar one Soylu sent on Tuesday under a warning that they violated the platform's "hateful conduct" rules.
Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey's history but the Istanbul Pride event has been banned since 2016.
Bogazici University's LGBT club was disbanded after the incident but the rector insisted that he personally supported "the rights and freedoms of LGBT individuals".