MEPs demand European Commission action after Pride violence

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The European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights has accused the Hungarian government of being unable to guarantee the safety of their citizens and visitors to the country.

The violent scenes at a Pride march in Budapest on Saturday showed the country’s “inability to deal with extremists”, said Michael Cashman, President of the Intergroup.

“This must be referred to the European Commission and Commission’s President.”

A Hungarian MEP, who is a Vice-President of the Intergroup, criticised the police.

“(They) failed to protect citizens exercising their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, probably due to inadequate resources,” said Sirpa Pietikäinen.

“I will demand an explanation from the Hungarian government and I will raise this issue with the European Commission.”

In a statement issued the day after the Pride march, Hungarian gay rights group the Patent Association said:

“The police protected the march against serious physical attacks in an exemplary manner.”

Last month police tried to cancel this year’s Pride march only to reverse their decision within twenty-four hours following international condemnation.

The move to ban Pride 08 was widely seen as a reaction to last year’s event when a dozen people, including a German couple, were beaten by skinheads with opponents throwing eggs, bottles and Molotov cocktails at marchers.

1,500 people took part in the march on Saturday, and Patent said “many demonstrators were heterosexual and non-transgender (by the look of them) and several non-LGBT non-governmental organisations were present.”

There were attackers at nearly every corner along the one mile route.

Counter-demonstrators threw petrol bombs, rotten eggs, faeces, eggs filled with acid or paint and cobblestones.

“There was one street where literally a shower of eggs and stones was poured on us,” said Gábor Kuszing of Patent Association.

“I was lucky to have a placard in my hand, and others used umbrellas, but most people just came in their regular clothes.”

He said police cordoned off streets and counter demonstrators were only allowed in side streets and were barricaded in.

SWAT officers in helmets and other protective equipment called in from across Hungary followed the march the whole length of the route and intervened where necessary.

However, there has been criticism of police and the Fire Department over their attitude towards two petrol bomb attacks on gay businesses in the week leading up to Pride.

A gay sauna and a basement bar were targeted last week.

Petrol bombs were used on both occasions and a telephone warning enabled the premises to be evacuated.

Budapest gay groups said the authorities need to realise the seriousness of the attacks.

“We call on the police to investigate these cases not as vandalism but as terrorist attacks,” said Mr Kuszing.

“Both acts constitute the crime of terrorist attack as described under the Hungarian Penal Code and Patent is filing a report to the police with that subject.

“We call on the leaders of the Fire Department to explain to the public of Hungary why setting fire to a public establishment does not constitute public threat, as this opinion of theirs was voiced in a press release by the police.

“We demand that neither authorities belittle the events but investigate them with due diligence and in accordance with their gravity.”