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Turkish police break up Pride parade with tear gas

Turkish police fired tear gas and detained members of a crowd that gathered for a June 26 Pride parade in Istanbul, which local authorities banned. (Video: Reuters)
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ISTANBUL — Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disrupt the annual Pride parade, intensifying a crackdown on the march at a time of rising government hostility toward LGBTQ individuals in Turkey, advocacy groups say. At least 20 people were detained, local media reported.

The Istanbul governor’s office had refused to grant a permit for the parade, which has been held since 2003 but banned for the last seven years. Even so, hundreds of people, many waving rainbow flags, marched Saturday in the city’s historical Beyoglu district, playing cat-and-mouse in back alleys with battalions of police officers who tried to prevent them from congregating on Istiklal Avenue, a hub for shopping and tourism.

“Rainbow is not a crime — discrimination is,” the marchers chanted.

The latest crackdown came during a withering year for gay and transgender people in Turkey, marked by increasingly strident official discrimination, advocacy groups said. Some of the loudest government denunciations came in February, when officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s interior minister, seized on student protests at a prominent Istanbul university to attack LGBTQ individuals.

“There is no such thing as LGBT. This country is national, spiritual and walking toward the future with these values,” Erdogan said during an address to members of his party that month, in comments that drew criticism from the Biden administration.

Earlier this year, the government also withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, a European Union treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, justifying the withdrawal in part by claiming that the agreement was “normalizing” homosexuality.

Erdogan, who spoke in favor of gay rights nearly two decades ago as his Islamist party was coming to power, has used far more divisive rhetoric against minority groups of late, as his party’s popularity is waning and he is seeking to rally conservative and nationalist voters, analysts say.

“Anti-LGBT speeches and social media posts by top government officials have become common,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a report in March criticizing what it said was the government’s assault on rights and democracy.

In past years, Turkey has cited security concerns as the ostensible reason for banning LGBTQ celebrations. More recently, the government has also pointed to coronavirus-related safety protocols. But advocates say those justifications ignore what is effectively a targeted crackdown against minority groups.

Videos posted on social media Saturday showed police officers with riot shields breaking up the event and pushing rainbow-clad Pride march attendees out of their way. Those detained Saturday included Bulent Kilic, a photographer for Agence France-Presse, according to Reporters Without Borders.

A video of Kilic being forcefully pinned to the ground by at least three officers was widely circulated on social media. A lawyer representing Kilic told the BBC that the photographer was later released.

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