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Europe

Poland hosts major European gay rights rally

The annual EuroPride gay rights rally is being staged in a former Warsaw Pact country for the first time on Saturday. Thousands of people marched through Warsaw - thousands also opposed the event.

A giant multicolor flag is carried by marchers during a gay rights parade in Warsaw, Saturday, June 10, 2006.

Similar parades in Poland, like this one in 2006, have caused controversy in the past

The landmark gay rights rally in the Polish capital was the first EuroPride parade ever to take place behind the Cold War Iron Curtain.

The event was small by its own standards, with police estimating about 8,000 people took part this year, as opposed to 50,000 at last year's march in Zurich and more than a million in Madrid three years ago.

Nevertheless, politicians from countries like Great Britain, Sweden and Germany also plan to take part in the rally, which will focus on a call for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships. Polish officials, however, are not expected at the rally.

A couple dances in a sprinkler during the Euro Pride gay parade in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 17, 2010.

Fewer people participated in the Warsaw march than in other years and cities

Despite marching with banners calling for new civil partnership laws, participants at the parade admitted that the legal situation for homosexuals in Poland was unlikely to change.

"We're hoping to open up a debate on the topic of affording legal status to the partnerships of gay and lesbian couples but we're not optimistic such legislation will be passed anytime soon," Jacek Adler, editor in chief of the www.gaylife.pl Polish gay lifestyle website, told the AFP news agency.

Local backlash

The parade is facing strong opposition in largely Catholic and conservative Poland; some 55,000 people have signed a petition which describes EuroPride as "an obscene event of filth and perversion." Counter-protesters chanted, "No to Sodom and Gomorrah," while one man distributed copies of the Old Testament.

Opinion polls have shown that as much as 80 percent of Poles oppose gay marriage and 93 percent say gay and lesbian couples should not be permitted to adopt children. Two-thirds of the Polish population oppose gay demonstrations.

Gay rights were repressed during the communist era, and gays and lesbians have struggled since communism fell 20 years ago for acceptance in a society still strongly influenced by the Church.

Poland's conservative opposition, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is against the recognition of homosexual partnerships. Kaczynski's twin brother, recently deceased former President Lech Kaczynski banned a similar demonstration in Warsaw in 2005 when he was mayor of the city.

Conservatives are planning a counter-demonstration on the streets of Warsaw in response.

"Politicians are afraid of us and would rather ignore this topic," said Tomasz Baczkowski from the "Equality" foundation, which has helped organize the event.

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP, dpa, AP)
Editor: Sean Sinico

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