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Thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and supporters of equal rights for sexual minorities marched in Poland's capital Saturday in the first annual EuroPride march in Eastern Europe.
The colourful parade wound through Warsaw in sweltering heat of close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), urging the government in conservative and deeply Roman Catholic country to give homosexual partnerships legal status.
"We demand a civil partnership law," read a massive banner at the head of march, although participants acknowledged such legislation was not on the cards in a country where homosexuality is taboo and few choose to be openly gay.
"We're hoping to open up a debate on the topic of affording legal status to the partnerships of gay and lesbian couples but we're not optimistic such legislation will be passed anytime soon," Jacek Adler, editor-in-chief of the www.gaylife.pl website, told AFP.
Opinion surveys show that 80 percent of Poles oppose gay marriage and 93 percent believe gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children. Two out of three Poles oppose gay demonstrations.
Saturday's event was the first time the annual EuroPride parade was held in one of Eastern Europe's ex-communist states. Last year's march in Zurich, Switzerland attracted about 50,000 people.
Marchers, some from as far away as Canada, jived along the route to hits by gay icon Kyle Minogue among others.
But the event was a more low-key affair than those in western Europe which also feature scantily clad revellers and drag queens.
"I don't think Poland is as homophobic as some people think it is, but for whatever reasons, people are still uncomfortable with the issue of homosexuality," Ken Coolen, director of Vancouver's gay pride parade, told AFP.
"It's the midst of a change here in Poland, where more people are coming out," he said.
"We want to be in solidarity with Polish gay and lesbians and we want also to show the police in Poland that there is no problem to be openly gay in the police," Stockholm policeman Goran Stanton, who also serves as head of the Association of Gay Police of Sweden, told AFP.
About 2,000 police officers, some clad in riot gear, were on hand to provide security. Eight people were detained for attacking police officers, reports said.
People trying to block the parade hurled eggs and bottles at the marchers and Catholic groups distributed pamphlets to parade-goers with an image of Jesus Christ saying: "I have not come to condemn but to redeem."
They also held prayer vigils at local churches "in the intention of redeeming parade participants."
The decision to hold EuroPride in Warsaw sparked controversy in deeply Catholic Poland where gays have long complained of intolerance and openly homophobic remarks by politicians are far from rare.
"We started lobbying already in 2005 against all odds and amid a very unfriendly atmosphere towards gay rights in our country," said Adam Biskupiak of the Equality Foundation, a Polish group that organised the rally.
Poland's late conservative president Lech Kaczynski -- who died in a plane crash in April -- banned a gay rights rally by local campaigners in 2005 when he was mayor of Warsaw.
He later fell foul of the European Court of Human Rights for that decision.
City authorities declined symbolic or financial support for Saturday's EuroPride event.
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