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ISTANBUL – Turkish police chased away a small group of transgender rights activists who attempted to march to Istanbul's main square Sunday while carrying rainbow flags despite an official ban on the event. Seven people were detained.
The rights group Istanbul LGBTI, host of the 8th Trans Pride March, had said on social media it won't recognize the governor's ban. Activists gathered in Harbiye district and in a live statement on Facebook said, "We are trans, we are here, get used to it, we are not leaving."
The organization tweeted "all roads lead to Taksim," using the hashtag "GameOfTrans," but police prevented them from reaching Taksim Square. A water cannon sent to the area wasn't used on the activists.
The Istanbul governor's office banned the march late Saturday for the second year in a row. It said "marginal groups" on social media had called for the march and it was being banned to preserve public order and to keep participants and tourists safe.
The ban also said, "very serious reactions have been raised by different segments of society," in reference to threats by conservative and ultranationalist groups made against trans and LGBT marches.
Istanbul police announced Sunday they would close multiple roads to traffic at noon as part of its security measures. Large numbers of plainclothes and riot police officers were stationed around Taksim.
The U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued a security message Friday informing its citizens of possible "heavy police presence and counter demonstrations" and asking them to exercise caution. The message also said participation in illegal gatherings could lead to detention or arrest under a state of emergency imposed after last summer's failed coup.
The LGBTI group's lawyer said seven protesters were detained.
Turkey doesn't criminalize transsexuality, but its civil code requires court permission and forced sterilization for transgender men and women to undergo gender reassignment.
Rights activists say transgender individuals face rampant discrimination and hate crimes in Turkey, and want to march for visibility and acceptance. In 2016, Transgender Europe said Turkey has the highest number of trans murders in Europe. The brutal murder of 23-year-old Hande Kader caused an outcry in Istanbul and the global LGBT movement last summer.
The Turkish government says there is no discrimination against LGBT individuals and that current laws already protect each citizen. It also insists that perpetrators of hate crimes are prosecuted.
Last week, the governor's office banned a march for LGBT rights for the third year. Police set up checkpoints to prevent participants from gathering and used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse crowds. Forty-one people were detained, among them activists and counterdemonstrators.