Riot police clash with right-wing groups as gay pride turns violent
Riot police in Serbia clashed with hundreds of far-right supporters who tried to disrupt a gay pride march in Belgrade yesterday.
Thousands of police officers sealed off the streets, clashing at several locations with rioters who were trying to burst through the cordons.
The protesters, chanting "death to homosexuals", hurled bricks, stones, glass bottles and firecrackers at the baton-wielding police. Police said at least three officers were injured and several rioters were arrested.
The march is viewed as a major test for Serbia's government, which has launched pro-Western reforms and pledged to protect human rights as it seeks European Union membership.
Right-wing groups broke up a pride march in 2001 and forced the cancellation of last year's event.
Hospital officials said a group of young men attacked the headquarters of a women's human rights organisation early yesterday, injuring one activist. The 'Women in Black' organisation said the men were looking for gays.
The same right-wing group set the US embassy on fire during riots in 2008 to protest US support for Kosovo's independence.
Right-wing groups said the gay events are contrary to Serbian values. Most of the rioters were young football fans whose groups have been infiltrated by neo-Nazi and other extremist organisations.
Before the march, police arrested at least a dozen anti-gay protesters.
Balkan societies have been slow to adjust to open homosexuality. Surveys show that 60pc of Serbians disapprove of homosexuality, and one-third of those say violence should be used to interrupt gay public events.