ISTANBUL (Reuters): Turkish police detained at least 50 people on Sunday after Istanbul’s LGBT community held its annual Pride march.

The government led by President Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party has toughened its stance on LGBTQ+ freedoms. Speaking after his election victory in a runoff last month, Erdogan accused opposition parties of being “pro-LGBT“.

On Sunday, police in riot gear prevented access to Istiklal Avenue, the traditional venue for Pride marches, as well as central Taksim Square. Streets nearby were blockaded and public transport in the area was suspended.

On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people carrying rainbow and transgender flags gathered instead in Mistik Park in the Sisli district.

They chanted slogans while organisers read a statement to mark Pride week. A big rainbow flag was hung on a multi-storey car park nearby.

Groups of people carrying rainbow flags marched in the streets of the Sisli district before organisers called on them to disperse.

Police held more than 50 people after the march, organisers said. Amnesty International’s Turkey office said at least one person suffered head injuries while being detained by police.

Organisers said their community had already been targeted by Erdogan.

“We don’t accept this hate and denial policy,” Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week said in their statement.

In the coastal city of Izmir, the country’s third largest, police detained at least 44 people on Sunday after authorities banned the Pride march, Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week said.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but hostility to it is widespread and police crackdowns on Pride parades have become tougher over the years.

Istanbul Governor Davut Gul said on Twitter this month that any activity threatening the traditional family structure would not be allowed.

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