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Hundreds of Thousands Attend Madrid Gay Pride Parade

Hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians and their supporters from Europe marched in Madrid Saturday under sunny skies in a colourful parade, as London and Paris also held their annual marches against discrimination.

Europride 2007 kicked off at 1600 GMT in the Spanish capital capping a week of events during which organisers expected a total of 2.5 million people, including 200,000 from abroad.

Forty-five floats -- double the number of last year and some of them from faraway places such as Manchester, Marseille, Stockholm and Zurich -- took part in the march through central Madrid under the slogan "Now Europe. Equality is possible."

The march ended in central Madrid, where a mega-concert was scheduled for later in the evening.

Culture Minister Carmen Calvo told participants that Spain, which legalised gay marriage in 2005 and gave gays and lesbians the right to adopt children, was a torchbearer on the continent.

"We are very proud to receive the rest of Europe," Calvo said. "Today Spain is an example of advanced democracy.

"We must fight homophobia and reactionary attitudes," she added.

Meanwhile, in Paris organisers said about 700,000 people turned out for the city's annual Gay Pride, with participants marching behind a banner reading "We will not compromise on equality."

The throng was made up of young people, couples and families as well as transvestites and drag queens, dancing to deafening music from the floats under the shadow of rainbow flags.

But amid the fun was a serious message -- to put pressure on the new French government over its opposition to gay marriage.

The spokesman for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Association, Alain Perou, said the Paris march -- attended by political figures from across the spectrum -- was not against the government, but intended to be "constructive."

"Dialogue w ith the majority must continue at all costs, even if difficult. And if one day we need to raise our voices, we know how to do it but this is not the time," he told AFP.

Elsewhere, organisers of London Pride were defiant in the face of increased security following Friday's foiled car bombings in the British capital, pressing ahead with a march expected to draw up to 500,000 people.

Security cordons forced a slight change in the route, but the event carried on as planned with London Mayor Ken Livingstone among those enjoying the party.

"I think people are completely safe to walk about the streets of London today and tomorrow," he told BBC radio ahead of the march.

"I have promised my family all week that we are all going on the Gay Pride march. We will all be there."

Spain is at the forefront of equality legislation and has since March allowed transsexuals to legally change their gender without having a sex change operation.

Campaigners there hoped Saturday's Europride, an event which began in London in 1993, will help countries where gays are still discriminated against to usher in similar legislation.

Homosexual rights are "still regularly flouted in Russia and Poland," said Antonio Poveda, president of the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals.

Europride is also a chance for Spain to celebrate 30 years since its first gay rights protests took place, two years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Most European countries have some kind of Gay Pride event, but often at different times of the year. Last weekend saw 1,000 people turn out in Athens, and about 400,000 in Berlin, while Stockholm, home to Europride 2008, has its event on August 4.


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