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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Rome divided over gay festival
Gay Pride rally in Sydney
Not what the Pope wants to see in the Holy Year
Gay rights leaders in Italy have criticised a decision by the Mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, to cancel the city council's support of a World Gay Pride festival due to take place in July.

Mr Rutelli was responding to moves by the Vatican and the Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, to have the event staged elsewhere.

Pope John Paul II: No blessing for homosexuality
Mr Amato told parliament last week that Gay Pride celebrations in Rome were "inappropriate" during the Holy Year called by Pope John Paul II to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Mario Mieli gay cultural group, one of the organisers, said the events would go ahead with or without authorisation.

Vatican serfdom?

One Italian gay rights leader, Franco Grillini, said Italy had to choose whether to be a free and democratic country or a Vatican serfdom.

It is unclear whether the organisers will now lose a $140,000 subsidy pledged by the city council last year, but they will definitely lose the right to include the Rome logo in promotional material.

The whole idea of the democratic and non-religious role of the republic is being brought into question

Equal Opportunities Minister Katia Belillo

The cancellation has proved highly controversial, pitting the Church against the gay movement, the political left against the right and raising questions over Italy's rigour in defending the civil rights of all its citizens.

Italy's Equal Opportunities Minister, Katia Belillo, a communist, said: "This is developing into a big issue because the whole idea of the democratic and non-religious role of the republic is being brought into question."

Jewish solidarity

Amos Luzzatto, the president of Italy's Jewish communities, has also criticised the decision, commenting that respect for minorities was a mark of a civilised society.

Mr Luzzatto recalled that homosexuals had died alongside Jews in the Nazi death camps.

The neo-fascist group, Forza Nuova has obtained official permission to hold a rival demonstration "in defence of the family" on the same day and in the same area of the city as the Gay Pride festival.

Some opponents say they fear the Gay Pride celebrations will turn into a demonstration against the Pope, who has defended the Vatican's condemnation of homosexual acts.

Thousands of pilgrims from Poland, the Pope's homeland, are expected in Rome for Holy Year festivities the same week.

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