Police have used tear gas and water cannons to try to break up a demonstration by tens of thousands of pro-secular protesters, but the march went on despite a government ban.

The celebration of the founding of the Turkish republic has in the past few years become a symbol of the divide between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's elected, Islamic-leaning government and its opponents who fear the country's secular traditions are in danger.

The Ankara governor's office last week denied authorization for the march, citing security reason.

But, people assembled in the old part of Ankara to march to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic 89 years ago.

Police shot tear gas and used water cannons Monday to try and disperse the crowds before a barricade was lifted.