ISTANBUL Turkish police on Sunday briefly detained at least one woman and fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of hundreds of people trying to mark International Women's Day in central Istanbul.
The group, which gathered two days before official Women's Day commemorations on March 8 in order to draw more supporters on a Sunday, had ignored a ban on the march by the Istanbul governor who scrapped this year's rally, citing security concerns.
They were seeking to draw attention to women's issues in Turkey, which ranks 77th out of 138 countries on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) index of gender equality.
The government frequently faces criticism for its handling of women's issues, including the failure to stem high rates of violence and low female participation in the workforce.
Violence committed by domestic partners is 10 times more likely in Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union, than in other European countries, according to the U.N.
Hundreds of women filled the square in the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul chanting slogans and carrying purple banners, the hallmark of a movement centered on women's social and economic issues.
Plainclothes police began shoving members of the group, and many women fled the square when riot police fired rubber bullets into the crowd.
"We have always said that we would never leave the streets for the March 8 demonstration, and we never will. Neither the police nor the government can stop us," protestor Guris Ozen told Reuters before the crackdown.
"You see the power of women. We are here despite every obstacle and we will continue to fight for our cause."
Skirmishes also broke out during demonstrations in the capital Ankara, where dozens of women took to the streets.
Turkey has sharply limited the right to peaceful assembly in recent years, giving police wider powers to detain protesters and the courts more power to prosecute them.
(Reporting by Melih Aslan and Mehmet Emin Caliskan; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Andrew Bolton)