Tens of thousands celebrate Gay Pride in Tel Aviv

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv on Friday for Israel's annual Gay Pride parade, which attracts visitors from all over the world, this year including France's first gay married couple.

Gay, lesbian and transgender activists and sympathisers, draped in rainbow flags, took part in a procession of floats through the Mediterranean coastal city blasting out electronic music.

Tel Aviv city hall said this marked 20 years since the municipality first organised a public event for the homosexual community.

But this year's march was overshadowed by a surprise twist in the investigation of the 2009 double murder in a Tel Aviv gay youth centre, when a masked, black-clad gunman opened fire on a group of young people at the entrance, killing two people and wounding 15.

Four suspects were brought before a court on Thursday, reopening a wound that never healed in Israeli society.

But media reports were suggesting the motive in the killings was revenge rather than a hate crime specifically targeting homosexuals.

"We are about to get closure on this terrible incident," Tel Aviv municipality spokeswoman Mira Marcus told AFP. "There will be a mixture of joy and sadness at this year's pride events."

In addition to the Israelis taking part this year, some 25,000 tourists were expected to join the festivities, Marcus said.

Among them are Vincent Autin and his partner Bruno Boileau, who tied the knot in Montpellier after months of passionate debate and protests for and against France last month becoming the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage.

The couple are honeymooning in Tel Aviv at the invitation of its municipality.

"Tel Aviv is a pluralist city that defends the rights of homosexuals," said Marcus.

"When we learned that a gay couple had married in France, we decided there was nothing more romantic and appropriate than to invite them to spend their honeymoon in Tel Aviv during Gay Pride," she told AFP.

Autin, 40, told AFP: "I had heard a lot about Tel Aviv but was surprised how gay-friendly it was."

"We're pleasantly surprised," his husband Boileau, 30, added. "There are rainbow flags everywhere, it's great to be here during Gay Pride."

Israel is widely seen as having liberal gay rights policies, despite the hostility shown by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community towards homosexuals, particularly men.

Israel repealed a ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts in 1988.

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