The 2009 European International Lesbian and Gay Association conference will be held in Malta.

The Mediterranean island beat the competing Dutch city of The Hague to win the right to host the LGBT organisation’s annual gathering.

Malta Gay Rights Movement welcomed ILGA Europe’s decision, saying it would be an opportunity to raise the visibility of LGBT issues in the Roman Catholic country, where gay people still suffer discrimination.

In October more than 200 delegates from all over Europe gathered in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius for this year’s conference, where they experienced first-hand discrimination and resistance, including a smoke bomb explosion at a club next to the conference venue, the banning of their Rainbow Flag event by the city’s mayor and a small demonstration against the conference.

Despite the attacks, the delegates said in a statement they were “determined to fight prejudice, discrimination and injustice.”

During the three-day meeting speakers from various international, European and national institutions discussed EU anti-discrimination laws.

ILGA Europe also held a European launch for the Yogyakarta Principles, a groundbreaking international document giving human rights issues for LGBT people a new perspective and impetus at universal level.

ILGA Europe had chosen Lithuania to highlight the prejudice gay and lesbian people face in the Baltic country, a former state of the Soviet Union, which joined the EU in 2004.

Next year’s location is expected to follow the pattern of choosing to gather in a country where LGBT people are still facing visible forms of discrimination.

Malta, a British colony until 1964, has around 400,000 inhabitants and is the smallest EU state in terms of both size and population.

In 2000 the government was criticised by gay rights groups for openly homophobic statements condemning EU proposals to treat gay people equally.

According to a December 2006 Eurobarometer survey, only 18% of the Maltese population support gay marriage, and there is significant prejudice against the LGBT community.