Thousands gather for S Korea's gay pride parade

Thousands gather for S Korea's gay pride parade
Members of the LGBT community gesture to conservative Christian anti-gay rights activists as they stand behind a police cordon during the opening ceremony of the 'Queer Korea' gay pride festival in Seoul on June 9, 2015. Organisers of South Korea's annual gay pride festival vowed to push ahead with a planned parade in downtown Seoul on June 28, despite a police ban and protests from conservative Christian groups.

SEOUL - Thousands gathered in central Seoul on Sunday to take part in a gay pride parade, with many celebrating the US Supreme Court's historic decision allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Hundreds of Christian activists stood behind police barriers to wave banners and chant slogans at those taking part, condemning what they called an attempt to turn the South Korean capital into "Sodom and Gomorrah."

Organisers estimated about 20,000 would eventually take part in the street parade, scheduled at around 5 pm (0800 GMT) to mark the finale of the annual Korea Queer Festival that started on June 9.

Police estimated about 5,000 people had gathered in Seoul Plaza as of Sunday afternoon.

Gay and transgender Koreans live largely under the radar in a country that remains deeply conservative about matters of sexual identity and where many still regard homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon.

Gay rights activists say some progress has been made in recent years, and the US Supreme Court decision cheered those taking part in the event. Many held rainbow-coloured banners reading "Some people are gay. That's okay."

The court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a legal right in all 50 states, a decision praised by President Barack Obama as "a victory for America".

"What happened in the US was incredible...I hope that I and my girlfriend will be able to celebrate the same here one day," said Suzy Lee, one of the participants.

"But we know it will take many, many years here in the South," the 28-year-old told AFP.

The annual parade -- which began in 2000 -- has in recent years attracted a growing number of participants, as well as increasing opposition from conservative Christian groups.

Previous parades were often marred by angry protests by Christians, who threw water bottles at marchers and tried to block their route by lying down in the street.

Concerns over public safety and potential clashes prompted police to ban the planned parade last month. A Seoul court later overturned the ban.

Sunday's event was held under heavy security involving hundreds of police, with police barriers surrounding the vast 1.3-hectares plaza.

Many protesters played hymns and slogans via loudspeakers in an apparent attempt to drown out the cultural performances in the plaza before the parade.

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