Serbia's police on Wednesday banned a gay pride march in Belgrade, citing security concerns but also complying with a request from Serbia's Christian Orthodox church.
Police said they are banning the march planned over the weekend because they fear a repeat of the violence in 2010, when right-wing groups attacked such an event in Belgrade, triggering day-long clashes with the police that left more than 100 people injured.
Last year's gay pride march also was banned by authorities.
The current ban was announced after Patriarch Irinej, the head of Serbia's Christian Orthodox church, urged the government to prevent Saturday's march. He said in a statement that such a "parade of shame" would cast a "moral shadow" on Serbia — a conservative Balkan country whose gay population has faced threats and harassment.
Allowing this year's march had been regarded by some as a test of Serbia's pledge to respect human rights as it seeks European Union membership. That was clear in the reaction of European Parliament official Jelko Kacin, who said the ban is a "political decision that questions the rule of law in Serbia."
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that in addition to banning the march, the government is barring a gathering of right-wing groups that planned to attack the event and cancelling several national league soccer matches in Belgrade on Saturday because they often are attended by hooligans aligned with the extremists.
"We believe that at this moment Serbia does not need clashes and victims, and that's why we banned the gatherings," said Dacic, who is also the police chief.
Opposition politicians said the ban illustrates that authorities are unable to protect freedom and human rights in Serbia. "No democratic society has the right to retreat from the threats of violence against basic rights," said Liberal Party leader Cedomir Jovanovic.
Meanwhile, some 2,000 of riot policemen were deployed on Wednesday in front of an art exhibition in Belgrade organized by gay activists which the extremists had threatened to disrupt. The reason? They claim the photographs by a Swedish author desecrate the image of Jesus Christ.