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Serb Police Clash With Antigay Rioters


An injured riot police officer is cared for by colleagues in the center of Belgrade.
BELGRADE -- Police in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, clashed with demonstrators hurling rocks and shouting antigay slogans during the city's first gay-pride parade since 2001.

That first parade was broken up by violence sparked by right-wing extremists. The latest march likewise ended in clashes, although police were largely successful in maintaining a protective cordon around the estimated 1,000 supporters who took part in the parade through the capital's center.

But afterwards, hundreds of antigay protesters gathered outside the cordon engaged in violent clashes with the police, hurling rocks and other projectiles. The police used tear gas and armored vehicles in an attempt to break up the clashes.

Dozens of police officers and civilians were reported injured in the clashes.

The gay-pride parade was the first in Belgrade since 2001.
James Kirchick, an RFE/RL correspondent, was assaulted by one antigay protester ahead of the start of the parade.

"Maybe about an hour before the event started, there was a skirmish with police officers and a couple dozen protesters about half a kilometer away from the park," he said. "I went past the police officers to take some photos and a man came up and tried to punch me, but he hit my camera instead."

'I'm Afraid For The People'

Protesters also set fire to the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Serbia's President Boris Tadic, who supported the march. No one was injured in the blaze, but the building sustained serious damage.

Dragan Djilas, the mayor of Belgrade, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the cost of the damage to the city is more than 1 million euros.

"Any normal person in this town is sad and has been affected by what's happening, and what has already happened," Djilas said. "I'm afraid for the people who took part in the parade. Things aren't going to be better for them. I'm afraid they will be worse.

"There are people whose intention it is to destroy all life in this city. Hopefully, the state will be able to prevent such things from happening again."

WATCH: Video of the clashes and parade, including an interview with Mary Warlick, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia:

Antigay sentiment is strong in Serbian society. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered in Belgrade on October 9 to protest the gay-pride parade, with some demonstrators calling for the death of homosexuals and giving Nazi-style salutes.

The Serbian Orthodox Church warned against using violence against the gay pride activists, but also expressed its displeasure with the parade.

A riot policeman stands beside an injured protester.
Plans for a similar parade were called off last year when government officials said they were not able to guarantee the safety of the march participants.

'Still Work To Do'

Speaking at the start of the march, French diplomat Vincent Degert, the EU ambassador to Serbia, praised Tadic and other officials for allowing gay rights to enter public dialogue.

"Steps were made on the legislative front and now this legislative front has to be translated into the everyday life of the citizens and to be visible for every citizen at this regard," Degert said. "And there we still have some work to do and some movement to make in that context.

"But I am confident that the authorities have been taking a very clear orientation. President Tadic was very clear on this issue, and I believe that we are moving into the right direction."

Despite the violence, many of those who took part in the gay-pride parade expressed satisfaction with the fact that the event was allowed to take place.

Boban Stojanovic, one of the parade organizers, told RFE/RL that the march was meant as a call for solidarity among all of Serbia's minorities.

"Today we are saying: We're not only lesbians or gays. We're every Roma, every woman, every child who is endangered in this society."

written by Daisy Sindelar, based on reports from RFE/RL's Balkan Service
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