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More than a million at gay pride marches in Europe

June 28, 2003

Berlin Gay Pride (Photo: AFP) BERLIN - From Paris to Zagreb, one and a half million people paraded through the streets of several European cities on Saturday to celebrate tolerance and equal rights for the gay community, organisers said.

While most paraders marched in a festive spirit, some took advantage of the mass gatherings to air demands for anti-discrimation laws.

More than 600,000 massed in the streets of Berlin for the 25th edition of the Gay Pride parade, whose main slogan this year was "to be accepted, not just tolerated".

The city's mayor Klaus Wowereit, who revealed his own homosexuality to the public in 2001, led the march which, he said, was both a celebration and a political event, aimed at furthering the rights of the gay community.

"There is no reason to hide," said Wowereit, clutching a pink teddy bear and a bunch of red roses.

In Berlin, "everyone can be happy the way he likes," added Wowereit, who publicly came out with the snappy catchphrase, "I'm gay and it's just as good that way", which has since become a rallying cry for the gay community.

Festooned in bright colours, 60 floats and a crowd of scantily-clad paraders headed towards the city centre to listen to speeches later in the evening.

Other marchers carried openly political banners, reminding German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his promise, made in the runoff to last year's general election, to pass an anti-discrimination law.

In Paris, political demands captured pride of place as between 500,000 and 700,000 people joined the annual march, organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities.

The march, which wound up through the city centre to the Place de la Republique had high-profile backing from several politicians, including Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe -- himself gay -- former culture minister Jack lang, and the first right-wing lawmaker to officially join the parade, Jean-Luc Romero.

In a carnival atmosphere, wearing everything from a green butterfly suit to a sailor's outfit or Venetian mask, the paraders marched under a canopy of balloons, brandishing banners demanding equal rights for their community.

Delanoe called for the adoption of a law criminalising homophobic acts and remarks, saying it was time for parliament to act against homophobia.

Former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius stressed the importance of furthering gay parenting rights, and suggested taking constitutional measures to guarantee those rights.

"It would be good to show that the French people are against all forms of discrimination and homophobia in particular," he said at the march.

Left-leaning paraders however were sceptical of the right-wing government's commitment to fight sexual discrimination.

"Left-wing governments has done a lot, especially with free treatment for AIDS," said thirty-something Theo. "The right isn't as open-minded about these matters."

In Vienna, some 200,000 people, many festooned in the rainbow colours of the gay community, marched to celebrate homosexual rights and urge the government to act against discrimination.

In the Croatian capital Zagreb, some 200 people gathered for the country's second ever Gay Pride march, parading through the city centre under a rainbow banner, and with a tight police escort.

The march, organised by two Croatian gay organisations, was more a political rally than a celebration, with many bystanders in this fervently Catholic society visibly hostile towards the demonstrators.

The crowd was almost as thin in Lisbon, capital of traditionally Catholic Portugal, where fewer than 500 marchers took to thestreets, mainly to uphold the right to diversity.

"We fight against discrimination, notably in terms of sexual preference," Manuel Cabral Morais, head of the Ilga Portugal group, told the TSF radio station.

Meanwhile in France, a new survey showed that tolerance towards homosexuality is on the increase.

Sixty-one percent of people said they would react well if they discovered their child was homosexual, up from 41 percent in 1995, the survey carried out by polling institute IFOP and published by Le Monde newspaper revealed.

Conversely, 36 percent of people would react badly to the news, down from 56 percent eight years ago, according to the survey of 1,019 people conducted in June.

- Sapa-AP 

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