Serbia: Authorities ban Gay Pride March in Belgrade
Yesterday Serbian Police prevented a march in Belgrade by a pro-Russian ultra-right organization threatening to burn the EU flag and spit on the portrait of the US Ambassador to Serbia. There were six arrests.
The protest happened on the same day that a Gay Pride March was to have taken place in the Serbian capital. The authorities banned the march out of concern that ultra-right radicals would hold a counter-demonstration.
The Associated Press reports that police were out in large numbers today to prevent both the Gay Pride event and any protests by those opposed to them out of concern that the events would turn violent. The Serbian Government was harshly criticized for the decision both inside Serbia and elsewhere in the world.
Last year, under strong pressure from the EU, the Serbian authorities permitted a march by hundreds of gays and lesbians through the center of Belgrade. Ultra-right extremists launched street battles with police, set several buildings on fire, and looted several stores.
Police spokesperson Srdjan Grekulović said six masked right-wing extremists carrying baseball bats were arrested. Police also prevented a right-wing extremist protest event on Avala Hill near Belgrade. Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić justified the ban on the weekend's activities by saying radicals allegedly wanted to set fires on the outskirts of Belgrade to distract police forces away from the town center and also allegedly planned to hijack a municipal bus. "Dozens of embassies, residences and state offices would have been endangered. The right-wing radicals were intentional counting on a loss of life," the minister claims. Amnesty International, however, called it a "black day for human rights in Serbia", because the state is said to have backed down on the extremists' demands to ban the Gay Pride March.