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Greek Cypriots take part in first gay pride parade

NICOSIA--Nicosia held its first Greek Cypriot gay pride parade Saturday, 16 years after homosexuality was decriminalized on the Mediterranean island, where the influential Orthodox Church views non-heterosexual relations as sinful.

The march left the capital's Eleftheria (Freedom) Square at around 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), with hundreds of waving and cheering people following a car decked with rainbow flags and blaring out music.

Police escorted the marchers, which included staff of embassies sponsoring the event, such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United States, carrying their countries' flags.

Some 3,000 people took part in the event, according to police, exceeding the expectations of organizers Accept-LGBTI.

The march left the capital's Eleftheria (Freedom) Square at around 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) and headed for a park behind parliament for a celebratory party.

A fringe group called the Cyprus Christian Orthodox Movement, including priests and monks, held a counter demonstration but police kept them at bay and out of trouble.

Accept's head Costas Gavrielides hailed the march as proof Cypriot society “has progressed more than politicians think it has” and said it has made it possible “to open up a discussion” on the conservative island.

Accept has said that a bill legalizing homosexual civil partnerships promised by the government last year has still not been submitted to parliament.

Austria's ambassador, Karl Mueller, and his wife attended with beards painted on their faces, a nod to Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian transvestite who won this year's Eurovision.

Kyriakos, 23, watched the march as it made its way through the city, but declined to take part himself saying: “It's a very small country, everyone knows everyone and if I'm seen here, I'll be labeled for life.”

The influential Church of Cyprus has also reacted negatively to gays taking to the streets, saying it “regretted the behavior and lifestyle of some of our fellow men.”

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