Serbia considers banning gay pride parade
Updated: 2011-09-30 22:43
BELGRADE - Serbian authorities may ban a gay rights parade in Belgrade on Sunday and all other public gatherings this weekend because they fear a repeat of the violence at last year's event.
Gay and human rights activists plan to gather in a park and march past government buildings. Ultranationalist groups have said they will stage a counter-rally.
More than 100 policemen were injured last year and dozens of ultranationalists were arrested after trying to disrupt the parade.
Rioters attacked offices of the ruling coalition parties, set ablaze the headquarters of the Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic and did widespread damage in the capital.
Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, who heads the ruling Socialists, said the gay pride event posed a major security risk for ordinary people, property and police.
"If I were the organisers I would recognise our security assessment and I would postpone the parade," he told reporters. "If they do not make such a decision, the police will be forced to do so, as no one else will."
Dacic said as many as 5,000 security personnel including anti-riot units, plainclothes agents and mounted police would be needed to ensure security around the parade.
Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas called for it to be cancelled.
"Rights are guaranteed to everyone, but I must remind everyone that rights are associated with responsibilities and because of that I am urging organisers of all (weekend) events to call them off," Djilas said.
Goran Miletic, a human rights activist and one of the organisers of the parade, said a ban would be a capitulation to intolerance.
"Violence is not normal. What is normal in a democratic country is to have people rallying peacefully for a couple of hours," he said.
Serbia must demonstrate its readiness to protect human rights to boost its European Union membership bid.
Traditionally conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept open homosexuality and many gay rights events in the region have ended in violence.
Irinej, the patriarch of the conservative and influential Serbian Orthodox Church, labelled the gay pride event as the "parade of shame."
"I would call this pestilence a parade of shame which is smearing human dignity and the holiness of life and family. I have an impression it was staged to hide and overshadow the tragic suffering of Serbs in Kosovo," Irinej said.
More than a dozen Serbs and four NATO peacekeepers were injured this week in clashes over a contested border crossing in Kosovo's tense and predominantly Serb northern Kosovo.
Irinej urged those opposed to the parade to refrain from violence and to ignore the event.