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St. Patty's parades proceed amid tension over gays

NEW YORK--New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was to become the first mayor in decades Monday to miss the city's traditional St. Patrick's Day parade over a dispute involving whether march participants can carry pro-gay signs. But Ireland's Prime Minister said he'll join the procession because the holiday is about Irishness, not sexuality.

De Blasio's decision to skip the parade underscores lingering political tensions over gay rights issues. Boston's Mayor Martin Walsh stayed out of his city's parade on Sunday after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay group to march.

Still, thousands of green-clad spectators came out to watch bagpipers and marchers in Boston. A similar scene played out in downtown Philadelphia.

Cities including Montreal also hosted festivities over the weekend, and throughout the world landmarks were bathed in green floodlights.

Ireland's head of government, Enda Kenny, became the first Irish prime minister to attend Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast Sunday.

Kenny has resisted pressure, in both Ireland and America, to support the gay rights lobby's demand to have equal rights to participate in parades on St. Patrick's Day.

“The St. Patrick's Day parade (in New York) is a parade about our Irishness and not about sexuality, and I would be happy to participate in it,” he said in Dublin before leaving for a six-day trip to the U.S.

In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day provides the launch of the country's annual push for tourism, a big part of the rural economy.

“To Irish people by birth or descent, wherever they may be in the world, and to those who simply consider themselves to be friends of Ireland, I wish each and every one of you a happy, peaceful and authentically Irish St. Patrick's Day,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins, the ceremonial head of state and guest of honor at Monday's parade in Dublin, said in a statement.

New York's parade, a tradition that predates the city itself, draws more than 1 million spectators and about 200,000 participants every March 17.

Parade organizers in New York have said gay groups are not prohibited from marching, but are not allowed to carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as LGBT.

Some LGBT groups were to protest the parade along the parade route on Fifth Avenue on Monday. Others had planned to dump Guinness beer from the shelves of the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, in protest of the brewer's plan to sponsor the parade, but that demonstration was canceled late Sunday after Guinness said in a statement that it had dropped its sponsorship.

Other beer companies joined the boycotts earlier, with Sam Adams withdrawing its sponsorship of Boston's parade and Heineken following suit in New York.

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The leaning tower of Pisa is colored green to celebrate Ireland's national holiday on the eve of St. Patrick's Day on Sunday, March 16. (AFP)

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