Amsterdam's canals were taken up by men in black leather shorts and little else, others in pink and silver body paint and drag queens in flamboyant dresses for the annual Gay Pride parade.
Not even a downpour could dampen the festive spirit as 80 colourful "floats" drifted down the inner city's Prinsengracht to the loud strains of techno music and the applause of what police said were "hundreds of thousands" of onlookers, many dossed out in bright pink outfits.
AdvertisementThe biggest cheer was reserved for a float "crewed" by gays and lesbians from the Netherlands' Turkish community, for the first time taking part in the parade, now in its 17th year.
Wearing red T-shirts with the white crescent moon and star of the Turkish flag, the group participated to help break sexual taboos in a culture seen as traditional and conservative, the float's organiser Done Fil told AFP ahead of the parade.
"It seems like we are the first generation to start a trend of ethnic groups in the Netherlands coming out of the closet," she added with a laugh.
Fil, a 31-year-old lesbian living in Amsterdam, said her group also joined the parade "to celebrate 400 years of Dutch-Turkish relations and 50 years of the Turkish community in the Netherlands."
The Netherlands and Turkey have been trading partners since 1612 when the first Dutch government official handed his credentials to the Ottoman sultan.
Also in the parade was Russian gay-rights activist Polina Savchenko from Saint Petersburg, a guest of honour on the Amsterdam municipality's boat which sported a huge sign saying: "Discrimination: Amsterdam is done with it."
Last month, Saint Petersburg police said they had prosecuted 73 people for violating new anti-gay legislation imposed on Russia's former imperial city four months ago.
Savchenko however put the number at 30 arrests, saying it was mainly on charges of "non-compliance" with police orders to remove rainbow-coloured flags and clothing representing the global symbol for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride.
"To me it's a huge honour to be here, but also a chance to tell people how it is (in Saint Petersburg) and how it affects people's lives," she told AFP.
She praised the Dutch capital for its tolerant views on sexuality.
"The air of freedom in Amsterdam is amazing," Savchenko said.
Many visitors -- although here to party the night away -- agreed with Savchenko's sentiments.
"It's incredible! Here you have a float by the city of Amsterdam with officials waving flags on it," said Juuso Hamaladnen, 28, who travelled with his friend Jani Nieminen, 31, from Helsinki.
"There was even a boat with police officers," exclaimed Hamaladnen, dressed like Hamaladnen in identical sailors' outfits. "It's incredible!," he told AFP before disappearing in the throng of spectators.
Police spokeswoman Marjolein Koek by 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) told AFP the parade went off without incident "although it was busier than other years."
According to Amsterdam city officials, between 300,000 and 500,000 visit the parade annually.
There are around one million homosexuals in the Netherlands, and in 2001 it became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages.
Of these, some 50,000 were in same-sex relationships by 2009 with almost a quarter being married, said the Dutch central office for statistics (CBS).
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