Gay and lesbians in Australia have reacted with fury at a drugs raid on Sunday night that closed one of the dance parties for Sydney Mardi Gras.

Revellers have described the police tactics as heavy-handed. They subjected revellers to strip searches behind specially-constructed screened areas. 26 people were arrested.

The Sydney police claim they are acting after the death of a 20-year-old woman at a music festival earlier this month.

Gay activists suspect the fact that 2007 is an election year has more to do with the police’s decision to target one of the flagship events of Sydney Mardi Gras.

Around 5,000 people were attending the Harbour party, which lasts 11 hours. Police successfully applied to a magistrate to close the event two hours early.

Jason Scott, 33, from Sydney, was unhappy about the attitude of police

“It seems over the top and homophobic and its like a number of recent raids on clubs which makes gay people distrust the police,” he told Rainbow Network.

“The message to drug users is clear,” Drug Squad Commander Greig Newbery told the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday.

“These drugs are illegal and people taking them or possessing them can face criminal charges.”