Behind wall of police, Serbia hosts first gay Pride since 2010

Sun Sep 28, 2014 9:58am EDT
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By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Gay rights activists in Serbia held their first Pride march in four years on Sunday, walking through Belgrade streets emptied of traffic and pedestrians by a massive security operation.

Thousands of riot police with armored vehicles, water cannon, horses and shields sealed off streets leading to the site of the short march from the government headquarters to parliament, to prevent a repeat of running battles between police and hardline nationalists that took place in 2010.

Authorities banned Pride for the next three years, citing security concerns.

But with Serbia setting out on talks to join the European Union, the bloc has made clear it sees Pride as a litmus test of the country's commitment to defend the human rights of all.

Hundreds of people took part, waving rainbow flags and blowing whistles as a police helicopter flew low over the city.

"I feel phenomenal. Our efforts of the past three years have borne fruit," said Pride organizer Boban Stojanovic.

Asked about the scale of the police operation, co-organizer Goran Miletic told Reuters: "This is the Serbian version of the right to free assembly and speech."

Homophobia is widespread in Serbia and other conservative societies in the Balkans; the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church last week compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest.   Continued...

A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag during a Pride march in Belgrade, September 28, 2014.   REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic