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Gay-pride parade marchers in Belgrade

Hundreds of people have staged a gay-pride parade in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed in the city center on September 20, with several armored and water cannon vehicles parked at main crossings in the downtown area where roads have been closed to traffic since the early morning.

Threats of disruption by far-right groups in past years had forced the government to cancel such events.

There were no reports of violence in Belgrade, where people waved rainbow flags and carried colorful balloons in a festive atmosphere.

Some of the opponents of the gay-pride parade in Belgrade
Some of the opponents of the gay-pride parade in Belgrade

But seven men wearing masks were arrested by police on suspicion of planning to attack participants in the parade. RFE/RL's Balkan Service says a total of 54 people were detained during the parade.

Marchers were joined by Serbia's European Integration Minister Jadranko Joksimovic, Culture and Information Minister Ivan Tasovac, and Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali.

Last year, Serbian gays and lesbians staged their first peaceful Belgrade Pride Parade in four years, in what was seen as a test for Serbia -- an EU hopeful -- and its commitment to protecting minority rights.

In 2010, during Belgrade's first-ever gay parade, hard-line nationalists attacked participants and clashed with police, wounding 150 people.

A few dozen counterdemonstrators stood near St. Mark's Church, many of them holding crosses and signs with religious sayings.

With reporting by AFP and Balkan Insight
Vahan Martirosian

BAKU -- An Armenian man has defected to archrival Azerbaijan in a case that is sure to rankle in Yerevan.

Vahan Martirosian, who says he is the head of an NGO called Internal National Liberation Movement, told reporters in Baku on September 18 that he had requested political asylum in Azerbaijan. There is no NGO by that name in the official registry.

Martirosian slammed the policies of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, calling them anti-Armenian, and said Azerbaijani media are the only source offering "truthful information" about the current situation in Armenia.

Martirosian claimed that he had been persecuted by Armenian authorities for his political activities and therefore decided to defect to Azerbaijan together with his wife and their toddler son.

The Armenian Investigative Committee said on September 17 after reports about Martirosian's defection started circulating in regional media that Martirosian had been added to a wanted list.

Sona Truzian, an adviser to the Armenian Investigative Committee's chairman, said that Martirosian was suspected of stealing the equivalent of $4,000 from someone in Yerevan.

Truzian also said that Martirosian had filed a complaint claiming that he and his wife had been attacked by security personnel for an Armenian lawmaker but never showed up to talk to investigators.

Armenian media outlets reported earlier that Martirosian and his wife were beaten in mid-August by bodyguards of Mher Sedrakian, a lawmaker representing the ruling Republican party in parliament.

Azerbaijani lawmaker Novella Cafaroglu said on September 17 that Martirosian arrived in Azerbaijan via Georgia, where he had been since September 4.

It is extremely rare for citizens to defect between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who fought a bloody war two decades ago over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and have remained in conflict ever since.

In March, Azerbaijani officials announced that an ethnic Armenian soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh had crossed over to the Azerbaijani side and asked for political asylum. The separatist military in Nagorno-Karabakh then announced that a soldier had left his post and crossed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory.

Armenia-backed separatists seized the mainly ethnic Armenian-populated region during the war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

International diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought little progress.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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