Monday, May 26, 2008

Gay activists march in Romania despite opposition

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Around 200 gay activists marched through Bucharest on Saturday in a heavily policed pride parade that defied efforts by religious and far-right groups to have the annual event banned.

Earlier this week, anti-gay groups tried to get a court to rule against the march, Romania's fifth annual gay festival.

Two counter-demonstrations were held ahead of the parade. At one, members of a far-right group chanted "Romania does not want you" in a protest they said was "against sin."

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but gay people often face hostility in this largely conservative country of 22 million where the powerful Orthodox church views homosexuality as a sin and a disease.

Police said the gay rights march passed off without incident.

"It is encouraging," riot police spokesman Marius Militaru told reporters. "People are becoming aware that we are heading towards a degree of normality."

Last year riot police detained dozens of protesters who tried to break up a gay rights march.

About 1,200 police were deployed to protect the parade this year.

"I want to thank the police here today ... but we should be able to march and be ourselves without the police marching along," Michael Cashman, a British member of the European Parliament, told activists.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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