Arrests in Istanbul as LGBTQ marchers try to defy Pride ban

ISTANBUL (AP) — Dozens of people have been arrested in central Istanbul after city authorities banned an LGBTQ pride march, organizers said Sunday.

Turkey’s largest city has banned the march since 2015, but large crowds nonetheless gather each year to mark the end of Pride month. Organizers called the ban illegal.

“We are not giving up, we are not afraid! We will continue our activities in safe places and online,” the Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week committee said on Twitter.

Kaos GL, a prominent LGBTQ group, said shortly before the march began at 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) that police had arrested 52 people. The Pride Week Committee later said more than 100 people had been arrested.

There was no immediate word on the number of arrests from police or the governor’s office.

Images on social media showed people being searched and loaded onto buses, including at least one press photographer. The DISK Basin-Is journalists’ union said “many” were beaten by police.

Local residents banged pots and pans from their windows and balconies in support of the marchers as a police helicopter circled overhead.

Metal fences and lines of riot officers cordoned off the streets around Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoglu district, the heart of the city’s shopping and tourist areas, as well as a point of traditional rally for protesters.

Metro services around Taksim Square were shut down for hours before the march.

Turkey was previously one of the few Muslim-majority countries to allow pride marches. The first took place in 2003, a year after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party came to power.

In recent years, the government has taken a tough approach to public events organized by groups that do not represent its conservative religious views. A large number of arrests and the use of tear gas and plastic balls by the police accompanied the Pride events.

Counter-protests by nationalists and Islamists, who say the LGBTQ community is a danger to “Turkish values”, have also threatened the marchers.

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