Turkish officials ban, then host gay tourists
A group of gay tourists, banned from visiting the ancient ruins of Ephesus, walk through Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul
ISTANBUL (Reuters) -- Turkish police on Thursday escorted hundreds of gay U.S. vacationers on a visit to Istanbul's tourist sites after officials on the Aegean coast had expelled them from popular attractions.
Police officials told Reuters they arrested 19 people who attempted to harass the group members as they toured the city's historic Sultanahmet quarter.
Police barred members of the 800-strong gay tour group on Wednesday from visiting the ancient site Ephesus and the resort town of Kusadasi before ordering the tourists to board their cruise ship, state-run Anatolian news agency said.
The police activities prompted the U.S. State Department to complain to the Turkish government.
"We brought this to the attention of the authorities in Ankara and have been pleased with the response thereafter," a U.S. embassy spokesman in the Turkish capital told Reuters.
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Anatolian news agency quoted Turkey's Tourism Minister Erkan Mumcu as saying overzealous local officials exceeded their authority in barring the group before he appealed to the interior minister to allow the tour to proceed.
"I explained that we do not take anyone's sexual orientation into consideration, and that this would hurt tourism in Turkey. He intervened and settled the matter immediately," Mumcu said.
U.S. consul Frank Urbancic met the group when it landed in Istanbul, as did a group of children in traditional garb who offered them Turkish delight, a traditional chewy sweet.
Although homosexuality is not banned in Turkey and large cities have active gay scenes, police harassment is common and the issue is largely considered taboo.
Organizers of a tournament featuring Turkish oil wrestlers -- burly men who fight wearing leather pants and liberal coats of olive oil -- protested when gay groups in Turkey planned a junket to the competition last spring.
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