Tensions Mount in Belgrade Ahead of Planned Pride March

By DUSAN STOJANOVIC, Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Amid mounting tensions, riot police were deployed Saturday in downtown Belgrade where a Pride march was expected to be held despite threats from anti-gay groups and an official earlier ban.

Raising hopes that the pan-European LGBTQ event will pass without violence, organizers said Saturday they received guarantees from Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is a lesbian, that the event can go ahead as planned.

“Following weeks of intense international pressure, the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has announced that the EuroPride March, scheduled for 1700 (CET) today, can go ahead,” said a statement from the European Pride Organizers Association.

“The prime minister said she can guarantee that the streets of Belgrade will be safe this afternoon,” the statement said.

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However, the Serbian interior minister said “there will be no illegal walks.”

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs once again warns everyone that it will not tolerate any violence on the streets of Belgrade and that it will strictly implement the law and the decisions of competent authorities and courts,” Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said.

Serbian police had earlier banned Saturday’s parade on the streets of the Serbian capital, citing the risk of clashes with far-right activists who started gathering Saturday near the downtown Parliament building to protest the LGBTQ event.

Several small incidents were reported Saturday with anti-gay activists hurling bottles at police officers who tried to isolate them in downtown Belgrade. At least two of them were taken away in a police van.

Members of the European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, hoping it would represent a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and strongly influenced by the Orthodox Church.

EU and other Western officials, as well as domestic and international rights groups, have urged populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to allow the holding of the Pride march. But he has said that police can’t cope with possible riots by right-wing groups amid the energy crisis and other events that have hit the Balkan country.

Those right-wing groups, some of them considered close to Vucic’s nationalist government, were also banned from gathering on Saturday, but they said they will ignore the ruling.

Several legal appeals by march organizers against the ban have been rejected by Serbian authorities. On Friday, organizers submitted another formal request to Serbia’s interior ministry with a proposed shorter route for the walk.

AP writer Jovana Gec contributed to this story.

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