Revelers at Istanbul's annual gay pride parade were knocked off their feet by water cannons, and hit with rubber bullets and tear gas after Turkish police moved in to disperse the crowd on Sunday.
People were enjoying the festivities before a police vehicle with a water cannon mounted on top arrived and started dousing the crowd. One video posted online showed a protester defiantly holding a rainbow flag before the heavy stream of water knocked him off his feet and sent him flying backwards.
"In every country [pride] is a celebration and gathering with a variety of people, but in Turkey, the government is sensitive and takes it on themselves then it turns into politics and this is not supposed be about politics," Damla, 27, told VICE News in Istanbul. "It's as if we are mosquitos."
The Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week Committee, which organizes events during pride week, said in a translated statement on Facebook that the long-planned event was suddenly "prohibited" by the Istanbul Governor's Office, which cited the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the reason. A trans pride parade was held last week in Istanbul without incident.
"We got to Taksim Square half hour before the pride was supposed to start and saw the police starting to block the access routes," Ekim, 26, told VICE News. "We thought this was going to be a 'normal,' peaceful pride walk, but the police welcomed us with tear gas… They blocked all the little streets and alleys leading to Istiklal Street where the walk supposed to take place."
The first gay pride parade was held in Istanbul in 2003 with just 30 people, but more than 20,000 attended in 2011, according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News.
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A cameraman for the Dogan News Agency said that police seemed set on stopping protesters before they reached Taksim Square, which has been a flash point for protests in the past.
The parade was scheduled just two days after the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across all 50 US states. A photo showed US Consul General Charles Hunter attending the parade to show his support for the LGBT community in Turkey.
After water cannons stopped protesters from marching in one direction, they turned around and continued to march down the street away from police. Many demonstrators made their way to nearby Cihangir, where they gathered in a semi-party atmosphere with dance music, cheers, and whistles mingling with occasional wafts of tear gas as police chased people down side streets in the area. Others gathered at Tunel, where the pride march usually finishes, but were also dispersed by police.
Later, armored riot police and backed by vehicles with water cannons charged repeatedly at small groups of jeering protestors on central Istiklal street — the planned march route — firing both tear gas and a water cannon with a stream laced with pepper spray. Both pride marchers and bystanders — including many tourists — scattered, holding flags and anything else they had handy over their mouths in an attempt to counteract the effects of the gas.