Saturday, September 19, 2009

Serb gay pride parade off on lack of security assurances

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Gay and human rights activists in Serbia have called off their September 20 Pride Parade after being urged to move venues for safety reasons, organizers said on Saturday.

The announcement followed a meeting with Prime Minister Mirko Cvektovic, who said the police had recommended the move after threats from ultranationalists and others.

A previous event ended with running battles on the streets of Belgrade.

"We were told in the meeting with Prime Minister Cvetkovic that the gathering is impossible for security reasons and that we should choose another location," said Dragana Vuckovic, member of the Pride Parade organizing team.

"Taking the Pride Parade to another location is simply not acceptable," Vuckovic said. "Pride parades are traditionally organized in the main streets of big cities and the message is that groups kept on the fringes of a society need to be integrated."

Serbian President Boris Tadic had promised on Friday to protect marchers.

A government source, who did not wish to be identified, said the decision to move the march to a venue usually used for music gigs was prompted by concerns police might not be able to contain violence toward marchers.

The Yugoslav Committee for Human Rights, an organization of lawyers, accused the authorities of having capitulated.

"The prosecutor's office has openly acknowledged that they are incapable of finding the legal grounds to prosecute the hooligans who openly call on murder, violence and human rights violation," YUCOM said in a statement.

The only public event staged by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in Serbia was in 2001 and ended in clashes, with dozens of gay activists and policemen injured by nationalists, neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans.

In February 2008, a government-backed rally to protest the independence of Kosovo, turned into scenes of vandalism, with attackers setting the U.S. Embassy on fire, stoning other diplomatic missions and foreign businesses, storming shops in central Belgrade and clashing with police.

(Reporting by Gordana Filipovic; Editing by Matthew Jones)