An estimated 5000 people have marched through the streets of Poland’s capital in Warsaw’s first legal gay Pride parade in three years.

Under heavy police presence, the participants walked from the parliament into the city centre carrying rainbow flags and placards demanding equal rights – all without incident.

The majority of bystanders waved and cheered at the marchers, although a small- counter protest was held in the city by the conservative Catholic Youth Movement and the extreme right-wing All-Polish Youth.

“This was the largest parade we’ve held in Poland,” parade organiser Tomasz Baczkowski told the Associated Press. “Polish society has opened its eyes and they know what democracy, equality and diversity mean.”

The parade took place under a continued crackdown of gay and lesbian rights in Poland. Most recently, the Polish government has been slammed for its plan to criminalise “anyone who promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in education establishments,” which could lead to the firing of gay and lesbian teachers.

During the tenure of Lech Kaczynski – currently the country’s President – as Mayor of Warsaw, Pride events between 2004 and 2006 were banned by his office.

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that the ban on a gay Pride march in Warsaw in 2005 was illegal and discriminatory. The current mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz Walz, surprised observers last week by giving the go-ahead to Saturday’s parade, citing the court’s ruling.

The European Parliament has asked the Polish government to: “publicly condemn and take measures against declarations by public leaders inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation.”

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