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Thousands of people across Europe participated in Gay Pride events on June 28. In parts of Eastern Europe, the gathering of gays and lesbians to protest discrimination ended in violence and arrests.
Gays and lesbians celebrate diversity in Berlin's Christopher Street Day Parade
On the 30th annual Christopher Street Day, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians defied the rain to walk the streets of Berlin in exotic costumes, waving rainbow flags and drawing attention to their campaign for awareness and tolerance.
The parade, which recalls the events of June 28, 1969, when New York gays stood up to arbitrary police intimidation, started in East Berlin and made its way along the boulevard Unter den Linden to the Victory column in West Berlin. Several prominent German politicians took part in the event to celebrate diversity.
95-year-old Rudolf Brazda survived the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in Buchenwald
This year's Berlin parade was dedicated to highlighting the continuing violence directed against gays and lesbians and began with a memorial tribute to the many victims of Nazi persecution of homosexuals between 1933 and 1945.
In Paris, more than half a million people took part in a Gay Pride parade under the motto "for a school without any discrimination, "dedicated to the fight against racism, sexism and xenophobia among young people. Among the prominent participants in the parade was Paris mayor
Bertrand Delanoe and former culture minister Jack Lang, both members of the Socialist Party. The conservative governing party UMP and the centrist MoDem were also represented.
Rightwing extremists block peaceful demonstrations
In many eastern European countries, where Gay Pride parades were held for the first time, participants clashed with angry counter-demonstrators and police were forced to make several arrests.
At least 20 people were injured when the Czech Republic's first-ever Gay Pride parade was attacked by rightwing extremists armed with tear gas even before the event was due to begin in the city of Brno.
Three people were arrested when counter-demonstrators threw fireworks at the gathering of lesbians and gays in which an estimated 500 were expected to participate. With calls in the Internet for resistance to the "queer parade," more than 200 police were present during the planned event. Local news media reported the presence of 150 aggressive counter-demonstrators and hundreds of onlookers.
Among the supporters of the parade were Czech Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Dzamila Stehlikova and tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Czech same-sex unions have enjoyed official recognition since 2006.
Bulgarian nationalists protest against homosexuality
In Bulgaria the country's first Gay Pride parade ended in more than 60 arrests. According to the Interior Ministry, Bulgarian police arrested some 60 extremists who had attempted to use force to disrupt the Gay Pride parade in the capital Sofia. A large police presence had been able to separate the several dozen parade participants from opponents from nationalist groups who threw firecrackers.
Already in advance of the event, security concerns had forced organizers and municipal authorities to change the parade route twice within 24 hours and to deploy a large number of police to prevent clashes.
The Bulgarian Nationalist Union had urged people to stage an "open resistance" to the gay parade and had gathered signatures for a petition against "homosexuality and child abuse" during the parade.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also protested the open demonstration of homosexuality and called the parade "a scandalous and wicked gathering." Bulgaria's Grand Mufti who speaks for the country's Muslim population issued a special statement denouncing homosexuality.
Activists for more solidarity and understanding
Participants in the parade, which was organized by the Bulgarian Gay and Lesbian group Gemini, held a huge rainbow flag and a banner calling for "solidarity against homophobia."
"Bulgaria is in the EU now. People have to accept us like normal human beings. We are not criminals," 51-year-old German engineer Peter Moews who lives in Sofia told the AFP news agency.
"Hostility comes from misunderstanding. Most people think that we are all feminine and wear women dresses but this is not true," he added.
Gays and lesbians in Bulgaria have faced widespread hostility since the communist era although there were no discriminatory laws or practices against them.
Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev said Friday that he "accepts people with different sexual orientation but does not quite approve of the demonstrations of such an orientation."