Controversy over "gay" Christmas lights in Rome

Rainbow lights on Rome's Via del Corso spark row

The gay-friendly rainbow theme for the Christmas lights on Rome's Via del Corso has sparked a political debate since the street was illuminated on 6 December.

The multi-coloured lights are intended as a message against homophobia, according to city councillor Imma Battaglia of the left-wing Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) party. With the support of mayor Ignazio Marino, gay rights campaigner Battaglia said the decision to install rainbow lights on Rome's premier shopping street follows a number of recent suicides of young gay men in the capital.

The initiative also follows high-profile incidents of homophobic graffiti outside high schools in Prati and Garbatella earlier in the year.

However the lights, which stretch for 1.5km from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo, have attracted the ire of some of the city's opposition politicians, particularly the far-right party Fratelli d'Italia whose member Fabrizio Ghera described the idea as "provocative and ideological."

Ghera's colleague Dario Rossin, who was recently involved in a well-publicised scuffle in city parliament during which he elbowed the mayor, said the street should have been illuminated with the tricolour to demonstrate the support of the city and nation for the two Italian marines imprisoned in India.

Following the political debate, Battaglia said that the lights could also be seen as a peace symbol, while the installation company Laura Rossi International said the lights would be dedicated to the late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela who died on 5 December.

The colours of the Italian flag were used in 2011 to mark the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, while last year's Christmas lights were white monochrome.