Bangladesh 'rainbow rally' cancelled over permit issues

DHARKA (AFP) - A Bangladeshi rights group has cancelled a planned "rainbow rally" to mark the Bengali New Year, which had been threatened by Islamists who said the secular festival was un-Islamic, organisers said on Wednesday.

The street parade, planned for Thursday, was scrapped over permit issues, according to organisers from the Roopbaan group which promotes freedom of love and gender equality in the Muslim-majority nation.

"We've decided to scrap the Rainbow Rally this year as we did not have official permission from the authorities," an organiser told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate comment from officials.

The group had earlier vowed to press ahead with the colourful New Year event despite online posts by Islamists against the rally, with calls to beat up parade participants posted on Facebook.

The threats come after hardline clerics branded the Bengali new year celebrations, in which people carry masks of animals and colourful garlands, as "un-Islamic and Haram (forbidden)".

It's been two years since Roopbaan first launched the parade, which it says celebrates "diversity and friendship".

Authorities have banned outdoor evening concerts and masks, commonly worn during the new year parades, as part of increased security.

Police have also stepped up their hunt for Islamic militants as Bangladesh reels from a series of deadly attacks on religious minorities and foreigners in recent months.

In 2001 a new year bomb blast in Dhaka's Ramna Park killed 10 people. Eight Islamist militants were sentenced to death for the attack.

Roopbaan is also a platform for promoting the rights of LGBT Bangladeshis, seeking to spread awareness and tolerance in a nation where same-sex love is a punishable offence.