Serbian police clash with right-wingers protesting EuroPride march
Police clashed with right-wing protesters as thousands of people participated in the EuroPride marchin Serbia's capital, Belgrade, on Saturday despite threats from anti-gay groups.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said 10 police officers were slightly injured, five police cars damaged and 64 protesters arrested.
"I am very proud that we managed to avoid more serious incidents," said Brnabic, who earlier gave the go-ahead for the pan-European LGBTQ event to take place despite an earlier ban. Among the marchers was her partner, Milica Djurdjic.
Also present were diplomats from the more than 20 embassies who earlier had issued a joint statement urging the authorities to lift the ban.
US Ambassador Christopher R. Hill wrote on Twitter that he we proud to take part in the march "in support of diversity, inclusion, and respect for the rights of all citizens."
The European Parliament's special rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, also joined the march.
Police clash with hooligans
But it almost didn't happen, with the Interior Ministry banning the march earlier in the week, citing security concerns after right-wing groups threatened to hold protests.
Counterprotests were also barred, but some far-right groups rallied and gathered in front of churches.
Riot police clashed with ultranationalist hooligans who hurled stun grenades, stones and flares at a police cordon, which repelled the attack with batons and riot shields.
Earlier, anti-gay activists threw bottles at police officers who tried to isolate them in downtown Belgrade.
Those participating in the EuroPride march walked several hundred meters to the Tsmajdan Stadium, a much shorter route than organizers had initially planned.
Originally, the parade had been planned to travel through half of Belgrade's city center.
Serbia struggles with homophobia
Belgrade was set to be the first Balkan metropolis to host EuroPride, with the European Pride Organisers Association hoping that holding this year's event there would present a breakthrough against the country's homophobic climate.
EuroPride is the largest annual Pride event in Europe and includes a week of festivities that culminates in the march.
Gay marriage is not legally recognized in Serbia, where homophobia remains deep-seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.
According to a survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, more than half of the country's queer population say they hide their sexuality. In addition, more than 90% of those surveyed said they don't feel safe holding the hand of a same-sex partner in public.
On Friday, Vucic had said he would "not deal with that topic [Pride week]," saying it had been "imposed on the Serbian people with evil intentions."
"All those who are in favor, but also those who are extremely against the walk, are all participating in a hybrid war against their country,'' he added.
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