BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Thousands of anti-riot police officers were deployed Sunday in downtown Belgrade in an effort to protect a gay pride march that faced threats of attacks from extremists.
Water cannons, armored vehicles and shielded officers blocked all traffic on the route of the march as Serbia tried to show it respects human rights of all of its citizens as it seeks European Union membership.
Waving hundreds of rainbow-colored flags, several hundred gay activists marched from the government headquarters through the empty Belgrade streets where shops were closed and public transport was stopped.
Sporadic skirmishes were reported between small groups of extremists, who chanted threats toward gay people, and police that had blocked them far from the march route.
The march was expected to proceed for only several hundred meters, but was important symbolically as a rare public event staged by the gays in this highly conservative Balkan country.
“This is a chance to show that Belgrade is a world capital where all of its citizens are equal,” said Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali who joined the march together with several foreign diplomats, government members and Serbian party leaders.
“I’m a little bit scared, but I believe it will be fine,” said Darko Pandurevic, 23, an activist from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, who came to offer his support.
Officials have allowed Sunday’s event despite fears of a repeat of the violence in 2010 when right-wing groups attacked a pride march in Belgrade, triggering clashes with police that left more than 100 people injured. Authorities banned gay rights marches planned for the following three years, citing security reasons.
On Saturday, thousands of extremists protested in downtown Belgrade against the march, vowing to prevent it with force if necessary.
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