Serbian gay rights activists say to march despite threats

Thu Sep 26, 2013 10:27am EDT
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By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Gay rights activists in Serbia said they expected to hold their first Pride march in three years on Saturday, undeterred by the risk of violence from right-wing nationalists who rioted during the last such event in 2010.

Authorities in the former Yugoslav republic banned the march for the past two years after the 2010 violence, but face pressure from the West to allow this year's event ahead of the expected start of European Union accession talks in January.

Conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept greater gay rights, but this year's Pride has become a litmus test of the Serbian government's commitment to tolerance and diversity as it seeks closer ties with the EU.

The government says no final decision has been taken pending a security assessment by police, who will have to mount a huge operation to secure the event. One cabinet minister has said he will join the march, indicating it will likely go ahead.

"As far as we're concerned, it is certain (to go ahead)," Belgrade Pride organizer and rights activist Goran Miletic told a news conference.

"We are working out all the details with the police, but we haven't heard their security assessment yet," he said.

Conservative and nationalist groups have called anti-gay protests for Saturday in Belgrade, raising the risk of unrest. Saturday's matches of the Serbian football league in Belgrade have been postponed to Sunday.

Authorities took down traffic signs in some parts of downtown Belgrade on Thursday where clashes broke out in 2010, in anticipation of them being torn out and used as weapons.   Continued...

A woman walks past a graffiti reading, "Stop the parade" in Belgrade September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Marko Djurica