Turkish police prevent Istanbul Pride march


ISTANBUL, June 26 (Reuters) – Turkish police prevented hundreds of people from gathering for Istanbul’s annual Pride parade on Sunday and arrested dozens after local authorities banned the march again this year .

Thousands of people used to attend Pride marches on Istanbul’s main Istiklal Avenue, but in recent years the government led by President Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-origin AK Party has hardened its position on LGBTQ+ freedom.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but hostility towards it is widespread and police crackdowns on parades have been increasingly harsh over the years.

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On Sunday, police in riot gear blocked access to Taksim Square and blocked many streets in the nearby neighborhood of Cihangir, where people tried to gather. Public transport in the area was also closed.

Local authorities in Beyoglu district have banned all Pride Week events between June 20 and June 26, saying they could lead to public unrest due to societal sensitivities.

The Istanbul Bar Association said peaceful protests could not be banned.

Small groups of people carrying rainbow and transgender flags briefly gathered where they could on Sunday and chanted slogans before police dispersed and chased them through the streets, forcibly arresting some .

“Discrimination is a crime, the rainbow is not,” chanted one group, while others read statements to mark Pride Week.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu last year called some university students “LGBT deviants”, while Erdogan praised his party‘s youth wing for not being “LGBT youth”.

Students from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara were prosecuted for taking part in pride marches at universities, but were acquitted.

A lawsuit against students at Istanbul Bogazici University over an image combining Islamic imagery and rainbow flags displayed at an on-campus art exhibition is ongoing.

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Reporting by Umit Bektas, Bulent Usta and Ali Kucukgocmen, editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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