Video: First Belgrade pride march since 2001 marred by violence

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100 people, mostly police, have been injured in clashes between the police and anti-gay protesters intent on distrputing a gay pride march in Belgrade.

The march, which was the first to be held in the capital of Serbia since 2001, was long predicted to be targeted by homophobic groups. Last month, Amnesty International warned that the event was likely to incite a violent reaction.

More than 100 people have been arrested after the office of the ruling Democratic Party was set on fire and at least one shot was fired in clashes with the police.

Prior to the march, Vincent Degert, an EU emmisary to Serbia told a group of 1,000 activists: “We are here to celebrate the values of tolerance, freedom of expression and assembly.”

Groups of skinheads, Christian fundamentalists and right wing extremists threw petrol bombs at the police and gay rights activists. The country’s president, Boris Tadic condemned the attacks saying: “Serbia will guarantee human rights for all its citizens, regardless of the differences among them, and no attempts to revoke these freedoms with violence will be allowed.”

The mayor of Belgrade, Dragan Djilas claims that the riots had little to do with homosexuality and rather a more generalised attack by vandals: “What’s going on now has nothing to do with the Pride parade. Unfortunately there are always people who will use every opportunity to destroy their own city. Fortunately no lives were lost – this is the most important thing.”

Linda Freimane, from the Latvian LGBT organization Mozaika said: “In the beginning it was the same in the Baltic countries, too much violence and too many police to protect us. Gradually, both the police and society in general started to accept us and our demands as well. I am sure the same will happen in Serbia.”

On Friday, the Serbian Orthodox Church said that the parade “violated public morality” and was an attempt to undermine the “most sacred of Christian values”.

The Church went on to say that they opposed “public expression and advertising of anyone’s sexual orientation, or any other personal inclination, especially if it insults the right of citizens to privacy and family life. In that context, the Serbian Orthodox Church decisively opposes the organisation of the so called ‘parade of pride’.”

Last year’s pride parade was cancelled after organisers met with police, claiming that as a result of high security risks and a lack of co-operation from the police that meant they had no choice but to call off the event.