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Gay pride march draws big crowds

world Updated: Feb 28, 2010 14:14 IST
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Thousands of people brought Sydney's downtown to a standstill as the flamboyant annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade marched, danced and sashayed through the city streets.

Balmy weather meant crowds were bigger than last year, with media reports suggesting as many as 300,000 turned out to watch the Saturday night parade, which featured drag queens and scores of George Michael look-alikes.

More than 100 floats with some 9,500 performers took part in the famous gay pride spectacle, which organisers hailed as a "hugely creative parade" and police said was better behaved than in previous years.

"It is enormously heartening to see our gay pride event so eagerly supported by the broader community," organiser Michael Rolik said.

"The parade was at its exuberant best this year. I spoke with many visitors from overseas and the message was clear -- Mardi Gras is the best gay pride event in the world and a great reason to visit Sydney."

Police said they attended 140 incidents throughout the evening and made 35 arrests and, while they were unable to give final figures for 2009, said this was down on last year's numbers.

However, the night was marred by two stabbings and a brawl in which a police officer was hurt.

"Whilst it is always disappointing that an evening of celebration ends with arrests and incidents that involve injuries, this year's operation has recorded fewer arrests and fewer incidents from 2009," said Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith.

The entire Mardi Gras festival, which runs for weeks either side of the world-famous parade, attracts thousands of international visitors to Sydney and injects 27 million US dollars into the economy.

The inaugural 1978 march was staged at a time when male homosexuality was still illegal in New South Wales state and ended with more than 50 arrests as police and protesters clashed.

Police and members of the military now join the parade.