The island nation of Mauritius saw its first gay pride march this weekend as hundreds of gays and lesbians took to the streets of the town of Rose Hill.

The colourful Saturday afternoon parade surprised shoppers who were faced with the sight of scores of men dressed in full drag, along with dancing participants bearing signs and leaflets advocating tolerance.

The event was organised by a local gay activist organisation Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow Coalition).

This was the first time that permission has been granted by the authorities for a pride march to take place. Previous attempts to hold a parade had been foiled by lack of official sanction.

Mauritius is considered to be generally conservative, its 1.2 million people a mix of Catholics, Hindus and Muslims. According to local activists lesbians and gays face daily discrimination.

Rama Valyden, attorney-general and minister for human rights, has stated that he plans to introduce a bill in parliament to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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