(AFP) – Aug 18, 2012
PRAGUE — Thousands marched in Prague on Saturday for the climax of the Czech capital's second gay pride festival, using the occasion to condemn the sentencing of Russia's Pussy Riot punk band.
With many in fancy dress, blowing whistles and waving flags, they gathered on central Wenceslas Square before setting off along Prague's main streets to the sound of music from loudspeakers mounted on vans.
The parade ended without incident on an island in the Vltava river for a series of concerts and shows.
"We estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 people took part," festival spokeswoman Kamila Froehlichova told AFP.
The cortege was headed by an open car containing Anna Grodzka, who last year became the first transsexual member of the Polish parliament.
The US ambassador in Prague Norman Eisen also joined the parade.
"More than 20 years after the Velvet Revolution, Prague Pride aims to contribute to a society that is open and sure of itself," the organisers said on the festival website, referring to the overthrow of communism in 1989.
They took advantage of the occasion to condemn as unacceptable the two-year jail sentences imposed Friday in Moscow on three women from the punk band Pussy Riot for performing a political protest song in a cathedral.
But the organisers' Facebook page was hacked overnight and Christian Democrats and another conservative group staged counter-demonstrations on Saturday.
The Czech Republic was the first country of the former Soviet bloc to give homosexual couples legal status.
But the first Gay Pride festival staged last year caused a political and diplomatic row when a top aide to conservative President Vaclav Klaus labelled gays "deviant" and was then backed by the president.
This prompted a joint statement in support of the festival from ambassadors of many European countries as well as Canada and the United States.
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