ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police fired water cannon and rubber pellets to disperse a gay pride parade in central Istanbul on Sunday, after organizers said they had been refused permission to march this year because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Police sprayed jets of water from trucks at crowds of hundreds who had gathered - many in colorful clothing and waving rainbow flags - near the central Taksim Square neighborhood, one of Istanbul’s busiest shopping and tourist areas.
As the crowds fell back, men who appeared to be plain clothes police officers detained several demonstrators, according to footage from a Reuters cameraman at the scene.
While homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, unlike many other Muslim countries, homophobia remains widespread. Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party he founded have shown little interest in expanding rights for minorities, gays and women, and are intolerant of dissent.
Organizers said on Twitter they had been denied permission to hold the parade because it coincided with Ramadan this year. The parade has been held in the past and has been described as the biggest gay pride event in the Muslim world.
“These people do not hurl stones and they never would. They do not throw petrol bombs. They just ask for a legal recognition,” said one supporter, who gave his name as Bulent.
“This summarizes what has been happening in Turkey. Any request for rights is met like this.”
The police action drew swift international condemnation on Twitter, including from singer and rights activist Lady Gaga who called on authorities to “set an example for people to celebrate both Ramadan and pride in peace, instead of dividing with violence”.
Sunday’s crackdown comes just a month after police used tear gas and water cannon on May Day demonstrators, and recalls the 2013 Gezi Park protests that turned into an international embarrassment for Erdogan.
Those protests began as a peaceful demonstration against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, a leafy corner of Taksim Square, but later spiraled into weeks of nationwide protests against Erdogan’s rule.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton and Digby Lidstone