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The BBC's Chris Morris in Ankara
"A tourism ministry spokesman said the whole episode had been an embarrassment"
 real 28k

Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Turks apologise for gay ban
Some of the tourists were prevented from leaving the port
Some of the tourists were barred from leaving the port
The Turkish authorities have apologised after the police banned a group of homosexual tourists from visiting the ancient site of Ephesus.

The 800 tourists, from the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands, arrived in the port of Kusadasi aboard a cruise liner, the Olympic Voyager.


We are not in a position to make judgements about people's sexual preference

Turkish tourism minister

They say a number of their buses were prevented by the police from leaving the port and others were turned back from the ancient site itself.

Turkish press reports said that the authorities feared they were planning to "disturb" a traditional all-male wrestling contest which takes place annually at Edirne near the border with Bulgaria.

Traders complain

The Sabah newspaper said that the ruling to bar the tourists came from the Turkish Interior Ministry, but a ministry spokesman said he was not aware of any order.
Authorities feared the tourists might disrupt a wrestling tournament
Authorities feared the tourists might disrupt a wrestling tournament

"All they said was 'No pass,"' said Edward Timblyn, one of the American passengers.

"I was disappointed, being stuck on the ship all day."

But he said that the mayor of Kusadasi had boarded the boat in the evening to apologise for the incident, saying that it tarnished Turkey's image.

The Tourism Minister, Erkan Mumcu, also tried to repair the damage.

"We are not in a position to make judgements about people's sexual preference," he said.

Traders in Kusadasi complained that the ban had damaged tourism and cost them valuable sales.

Arrests

The group has now gone to Istanbul where, after intervention by the US State Department, they were allowed to visit the historic sites.

This time, the tourists were escorted by uniformed policemen on motorcycles and a large number of plainclothes officers.

The police arrested 19 people who attempted to harass them.

Correspondents say that although gay artists, singers and belly dancers are popular in Turkey, homosexuality is still taboo, and gays complain of discrimination - especially from the police.

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