Police arrested 64 people in Belgrade on Saturday as LGBTQ activists gathered for a EuroPride march despite a government ban.
The event had been designed as the flagship event of the EuroPride gathering. But the Home Office banned the march earlier this week, citing security concerns after right-wing groups threatened to stage protests.
Despite the official ban, protesters were able to march in the rain a few hundred meters from the Constitutional Court to a nearby park, a much shorter route than originally planned by organizers.
Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin insisted the ban was being enforced and people were simply being “escorted to a concert”.
Local media reported that skirmishes broke out outside the event and a group of hooligans threw flares at police.
The Balkan country’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic – who is openly gay – said 64 people were arrested and ten police officers injured on Saturday, but stressed she was ‘proud’ the day ended without ‘any incident major “.
Same-s*x marriage is not legally recognized in Serbia, where homophobia remains deeply rooted despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.
“It’s much more than a gay pride,” Luka Mazzanti Jovicevic, a Serbian participant, told AFP.
“We are fighting for the future of the country.”
Model and activist Yasmin Benoit said she’s been to many Pride parades “but this one is slightly more stressful than the others”.
“I come from the UK where everyone is more together and it’s more commercial,” she told AFP.
“But here is really what Pride should be… standing up to the forces that want to stop us.”
There was a heavy police presence around the Pride rally, with officers pushing back small groups of counter-protesters brandishing crosses and religious insignia.
“I am here to preserve Serbian traditions, faith and culture which are being destroyed by sodomites,” Andrej Bakic, 36, a counter-protester from a group surrounded by riot police, told AFP on Saturday. .
The Balkan country, a candidate for EU membership, had come under intense international pressure to allow the march.
More than 20 embassies – including the United States, France and Britain – issued a joint statement urging authorities to lift the ban.
“As activists, we will use our democratic right to civil disobedience and we will protest,” Belgrade Pride organizers said on Saturday, after a court rejected their appeal to overturn the ban.
The Interior Ministry had also banned any counter-demonstrations, but some far-right groups gathered outside several churches in Belgrade.
Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin warned in a statement that “we will not tolerate any violence on the streets of Belgrade, nor illegal marches”.
The US Embassy urged its citizens to avoid the event “due to the potential for unruly crowds, violence, as well as possible fines.”
Human rights groups and the European Union have called on the Serbian government to lift the ban.
“The Serbian government’s decision to cancel EuroPride is a shameful surrender and implicit punishment for bigotry and threats of unlawful violence,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.
At least 15 Members of the European Parliament joined the Pride March in a show of solidarity.
The Belgrade Pride Marches in 2001 and again in 2010 were marred by violence and riots after far-right groups targeted the event.
Since 2014, the parade has been organized regularly without notable disturbances but is protected by a large police presence.
The formal ban came just days after thousands took part in an anti-Pride protest in Belgrade, with biker gangs, Orthodox priests and far-right nationalists demanding the EuroPride rally be scrapped.
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