By Pierre Glachant (AFP) – Sep 19, 2009
BELGRADE — Organisers of a Gay Pride parade in Belgrade on Saturday called off the march after the government said it could not prevent clashes with extremists, rejecting a suggestion to shift the venue.
The event would have been the first for nearly a decade since the last gay rights march broke up amid violent clashes with right-wing extremists.
Nationalists hailed the cancellation saying it was a defeat for "infidels and Satanists."
Organiser Dragana Vuckovic told B92 television that Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic "handed us a paper informing us that the parade was not possible (in central Belgrade) because the risks were too high,."
Vuckovic said organisers cancelled the event, planned for Sunday, after police suggested it could instead take place in a field.
"That would be unacceptable for us. As a result we decided to cancel" the event, she told AFP.
The Beta news agency said police had proposed a large open space across the Sava river from the city centre, to host the event. It had been planned for outside the philosophy faculty in the middle of Belgrade.
"The message of equal rights is transmitted symbolically when a group on the margins is able to parade in the centre of the capital," Vuckovic said.
She said the organisers were calling on the government to open an investigation to determine who had threatened the march.
Vuckovic hailed messages of support from the authorities and vowed to try again next year but alleged there had been "operational obstructions" to staging the parade.
President Boris Tadic warned Friday against creating an "atmosphere of chaos" and "threats and violence" in Belgrade after two French football fans were injured in a clash with fans of Partizan Belgrade.
Football supporters are prominent in the nationalist and right-wing groups which had threatened violence against participants in the gay rights march.
"The state will do everything to protect people, whatever their national, religious, sexual or political orientation, and no group must resort to threats and violence, or take justice into its own hands and jeopardise the lives of those who think or are different," Tadic said.
Organisers had said they expected up to 1,000 people to join the parade, among them a number of public figures, foreign diplomats and gay activists from neighbouring countries.
Interior Minister Ivica Dacic had said that thousands of police would be deployed.
The ultra-nationalist Serb Popular Movement 1389 hailed the cancellation of the march as "a great victory for normal Serbia."
The group said it would be going ahead with its own demonstration planned at the philosophy faculty at 8:00 am (0600 GMT), three hours before the Gay Pride would have begun, for a "non-violent and non-deviant popular Serb rally."
"In our city, infidels and Satanists will not pass," it added.
The parade, supported by the ministry for human rights and minorities, would have been the first gay rights march since a rally in 2001 ended in violence when police failed to protect participants from attacks by football hooligans.
In March parliament passed a law banning discrimination against homosexuals despite opposition from nationalists and religious leaders, but gays and lesbians are still blocked from marrying, adopting children and other rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.
Belgrade Pride organisers had also called on the Serbian Orthodox Church to make an appeal for calm. But the Church said it could not accept the event, calling it a "Shame Parade, Parade of Sodom and Gomorrah".
Ultra-nationalist group, Nasi (Ours), warned that "European Union and American leaders who support (homosexuals) should know that as long as there are Orthodox Serbs there will be no homosexual parade in Serbia."
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