Gay rights march in Belgrade triggers violent riots

Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:42pm EDT
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By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - A gay rights parade in Belgrade erupted in violence on Sunday as thousands of police deployed to protect marchers clashed with anti-gay protesters, who rioted and attacked the headquarters of the ruling parties.

In the worst violence in the Serbian capital in over two years, more than 110 police were injured in pitched battles with gangs of nationalists and skinheads, and one of the 1,500 marchers was badly beaten as he arrived home in a nearby suburb, police and officials said.

Pushed back from the parade area by 5,000 police in riot gear, protesters turned to other targets, breaking into the lobby of the state television network, scaling scaffolding to try to enter parliament, smashing windows at the Austrian embassy and burning a car in front of the French embassy.

Firefighters extinguished a blaze at the headquarters of the Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic and the premises of their coalition partner, the Socialist Party, were also attacked before calm was restored by early evening.

Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac called it a "really sad day for Serbia" and Tadic vowed to bring the people behind the violence to justice.

"Serbia will secure human rights for all its citizens regardless of their diversity. No one will tolerate attempts to threaten them," said Tadic, who like other top government officials did not attend the march.

The clashes highlighted the intolerance that still pervades Serbian society a decade after the country ousted strongman Slobodan Milosevic, ending the pariah status that dogged it during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The parade, the first of its kind in Belgrade in nearly a decade, had been seen as a test of Serbia's readiness to become a more modern, open society after years of conflict fueled by ethnic hatred.   Continued...