Rain fails to dampen Sydney's shimmering Mardi Gras

SYDNEY - Rain failed to dampen the spirits of tens of thousands of spectators and marchers who turned out for Sydney's annual gay rights Mardi Gras parade, organisers said Sunday.

Vladimir Putin and his anti-gay laws were the focus of several floats in this year's march, which saw 10,000 participants and 144 entries wind their way through central Sydney, including a giant sinister-looking puppet of the Russian leader.

Rain soaked the city for much of Saturday, but skies cleared as the 36th annual parade got underway with the traditional "Dykes on Bikes" motorcycle group.

"Once again the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade has made its way through the streets of Sydney with flair, and celebrated safely," said assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke.

"Despite the rain most people maintained a positive attitude and celebratory spirit."

The defence forces, police and firefighters all sent contingents to march in uniform, and the surf lifesavers were a crowd favourite in their swimming trunks and caps. Organisers estimate that some 400 kilograms of glitter went into Saturday night's festivities.

South Asian gay rights group Trikone demonstrated against India's colonial-era gay sex ban on a float themed "Proud as a Peacock" and there was a WikiLeaks entry calling for the liberation of transgender whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

"There's room for very serious political comment in Mardi Gras," said Sydney mayor Clover Moore.

"This is a global event, the biggest of its kind in the world, and it's good to make those statements."

There was the usual fare of drag queens, Asian marching boys and religious groups calling for greater tolerance, including a float of Christian ministers and pastors, as well as school groups.

All of Australia's major political parties were represented, with a number of MPs marching in the parade including Labor Senator Penny Wong, who has a daughter with her female partner and participated in the event for the first time.

She called for legalisation of same-sex marriage - a common theme among the 2014 floats as Australia marks 10 years since law reform which explicitly restricted marriage to between a man and woman.

"Mardi Gras is an affirmation, not only for those of us who are confident enough to march, but also for those still coming to terms with their sexuality," said Wong.

"Political leaders need to take up the fight against homophobia and discrimination."

Baz Luhrmann, director of The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge, designed the parade's final float, "Strictly Mardi Gras" in homage to his breakthrough 1992 movie "Strictly Ballroom" and the parade, which he described as a special and unique Sydney experience.

Police arrested 16 people including a 25-year-old man who indecently assaulted a 15-year-old spectator.