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Gay rights groups march in Istanbul Pride parade in spite of ban

After activists read statement, police order them to disperse, fire rubber bullets
LGBT rights activists take part in march in Istanbul on Sunday (AFP)

Gay rights groups and activists pressed ahead with the Istanbul Pride parade on Sunday in spite of Turkish authorities banning the event for a fourth year in a row.

About 1,000 people gathered near the city's famous Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square where organisers had wanted to originally hold the parade, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

The activists unfolded a large rainbow flag while a media statement was read out amid heavy security in the area. Police then warned activists to disperse and used rubber bullets against some who tried to access Istiklal Avenue, the photographer said.

Although homosexuality is legal in Turkey, LGBT individuals frequently cite abuse and harassment. Civil liberties in Turkey have become a particular concern for the West after a crackdown following an attempted military coup in July 2016.

Amnesty International's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner said on Twitter: “100s of police throughout the Taksim area to stop the Istanbul Pride taking place but creative and courageous Pride participants sidestep the ban and read their press statement at a back street spontaneous protest."

The Istanbul governorate told the organisers that officials "could not take steps to secure their safety and did not find it appropriate for the Pride Walk to take place," according to a statement from Istanbul LGBT+ Pride Week on Facebook late Friday.

The Istanbul governor's office issued no public statement about the event.

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"The governor cited the excuse of security in its decision to ban the march and in one word, this is comical," the organisers said in a statement on Facebook hours before the march. "Our marches went on peacefully without being banned for 13 years."

"We LGBTI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) are here with our pride despite all vain attempts to prevent us and we do not recognise this ban," they added. 

The annual rally is the most important LGBT event in a Muslim country in the region.

The Ankara governorate on Thursday banned a screening of the British 2014 film Pride organised by the Communist LGBT group, saying such events could "incite hatred and enmity".

The governor's office added that there could be "danger to public safety".

The capital's governorate in November issued a ban on LGBT events, but gay rights groups said they would take legal action against the order.

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