Hundreds of thousands parade for gay rights in Rome

ROME: Hundreds of thousands of people paraded through central Rome in a gay pride parade on Saturday, with many criticising Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government for failing to grant same-sex rights.

"I want to tell the world, Europe and above all Italy, which is a bit closed, that we have the right to be treated like human beings," said 22-year-old Nikita, who wore a silver dress with high heels and feathers.

Slogans at the parade read "Different People, Same Rights" and "Equality and Human Rights for All!" as people waved rainbow flags in a festive atmosphere.

There were also more provocative displays including a man dressed as a bishop who had the words "paedophilia" and "sex abuse" scrawled on his costume.

"Italy is the only country that does not recognise LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) rights," said Franco Grillini, a member of the opposition Italy of Values party and historic gay rights activist.

"Italy should adapt to the rest of the Western world," he said.

Activists said they hoped star guest Lady Gaga, who is to address the rally at around 1900 GMT and sing her hit single "Born This Way", would help amplify their message of defiance against the Vatican and the Italian government.

Italy is one of the few European states that lacks specific legislation against homophobic violence and has no provision for gay civil unions.

Berlusconi last year dismissed a sex scandal with a homophobic comment saying: "It's better to be passionate about beautiful women than to be gay."

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