Organisers vow to hold Istanbul Gay Pride despite ban

Istanbul (AFP) - Organisers of the annual Gay Pride march in Istanbul insisted Saturday that it would go ahead in the city's Taksim Square despite a ban by the authorities over "safety concerns".

Activists had called the parade for 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Sunday but the city governor's office said that Taksim was not an official rallying ground.

"There will be no permission for a demonstration or a march on the said date considering the safety of tourists in the area... and public order," it said in a statement.

City officials also said there had been no formal application to call a rally and that they only heard of the event through social media.

Lara Ozlen from the organising committee of the Gay Pride parade, said the governor's office statement was a "lie".

"They had known about our plan long before because we presented a petition weeks ago," Ozlen told AFP.

City authorities also urged citizens to ignore calls to participate in the parade and to abide by the security forces' warning.

The annual Gay Pride event has been banned in Istanbul since 2015.

Last year, organisers were denied permission to march with the city on the edge over bombings blamed on Islamic State group and Kurdish militants, sparking anger from gay rights activists.

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who defied the ban.

- 'Right' to march -

Amnesty International in a statement expressed "deep concerns" over the ban on the parade.

"That decision ignores LGBTs and their supporters' right to peaceful assembly," it said.

"Turkey should protect Gay Pride rather than banning it."

This year, the march coincides with the first day of the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, and far-right groups have warned on social media against the parade.

"It is obvious that a peaceful march is part of our constitutional right," Ozlen said.

"It's been known for years. Instead of protecting us, to say 'do not march' just because some will be disturbed is undemocratic."

Turkey imposed a state of emergency in the wake of last year's failed coup to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with critics saying their freedoms are not safeguarded.

Lawyer and LGBT activist Levent Piskin said calling a march was "not a crime" but added that the situation was gradually deteriorating for LGBT people in Turkey.

"Lawlessness is at its height during the state of emergency," he told AFP.

Piskin claimed LGBT people had been subjected to attacks over the last two years from nationalist and conservative quarters.

Thousands took part in previous Istanbul pride marches, which were among the most significant LGBT events in the mainly-Muslim region.