ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Istanbul’s gay and transgender community gathered for a small rally that ended with tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday after their annual march was banned for the fifth consecutive year.
The march used to see tens of thousands of people parade down Istanbul’s main Istiklal street, but Sunday’s rally saw just a few hundred people gather on one of Beyoglu district’s side streets to wave rainbow flags and shout slogans.
March organizers LGBTI+ Pride Week said they had reached a deal with the police allowing them to read a public statement and then disperse peacefully. But they slammed the Istanbul governor’s ban on a march as unlawful and discriminatory.
“It is one more time demonstrated that those who ban our Pride March with copy-and-paste reasons such as public peace and security, terror, public morality, and public health can not govern the state,” the organizers said.
“Our demands neither disturb the public peace nor threaten the public security. Our demands are essential in a constitutional state in order for us to have equal citizenship rights,” they said.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who remained after the statement was read.
Istanbul’s governor was unavailable for comment on Sunday.
Sunday’s rally comes a week after a renewed mayoral election in the country’s largest city that saw the main opposition earn a decisive victory over President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party for the first time in 25 years.
Istanbul’s new mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, voiced support for the LGBT march in a meeting with foreign media on Friday, saying any demonstration should be allowed as long it was peaceful. He said he would ask the governor why the march had been banned so far.
Over the weekend, several opposition municipalities across Turkey shared posts supporting gay and transgender rights on their social media accounts. Some of Istanbul’s districts have also voiced support for the march.
Istanbul has traditionally been seen as a relative safe haven by members of the gay community in Turkey. Although homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, there is widespread hostility to it across Turkish society.
Similar LGBT rallies were also banned in the capital Ankara and the coastal city of Izmir, the country’s third largest city.
Civil liberties in Turkey have grown as a concern for Western nations after an attempted military coup in July 2016. The ensuing crackdown resulted in more than 77,000 being formally arrested and some 160,000 people being dismissed from their jobs over alleged ties to the abortive putsch.
Critics say Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AKP have shown little interest in expanding rights for minorities, gay people and women. The government, however, says it has improved rights and freedoms since it came to power more than 16 years ago.
Additional reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Deepa Babington