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SOFIA (Reuters) - The Bulgarian Orthodox Church joined anti-gay activists in calling for the cancellation of a gay march in the capital Sofia planned for Saturday, adding to tensions over an event which has faced threats from protesters.
"Our irrevocable belief is that homosexuality is unnatural lust, which undoubtedly damages the individual, the family and society and causes detrimental effects on physical, mental and spiritual state of people," the church said in a statement.
Thousands of people in the Balkan country, including politicians, editors and publishers of leading media, sociologists, actors and sportsmen, wrote a letter to Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova, urging her to cancel the event.
Homosexuality remains a sensitive issue across the Balkans and the annual gay march in Bulgaria has a history of violence with clashes between homosexuals and conservatives.
Ten years ago Bulgarian officials banned the country's first planned gay parade and about 60 far-right extremists were arrested for throwing a petrol bomb and trying to break up the march in 2008.
A homophobic attack was held against a gay film fest in the southern city of Plovdiv in 2013 while last year's Sofia march was blocked by Bulgarian nationalists.
"The Church strongly condemns any propaganda of homosexuality and oppose attempts to impose sinful acts as a norm, as a source of pride and an example to follow," the church said.
It said that such public gatherings encourage immoral behavior and destroy Orthodox Christian values.
In recent years Western ambassadors have supported the march. Last year several Sofia-based embassies issued a statement of support for Sofia pride, encouraging people and institutions in Bulgaria to stand up for and support open-mindedness and tolerance towards LGBTI people.
Some 80 percent of Bulgarians say they are Orthodox Christians - the mainstream religion also in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Greece, Romania and Serbia, but only few see churchgoing as important to their lives.
Trust in the Orthodox Church was shaken after a history commission showed a few years ago that many bishops collaborated with the former communist era secret police.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Dominic Evans