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BELGRADE, Sept 20, 2015:

Belgrade’s Gay Pride parade, only the second since a ban was lifted, took place under tight security but without major incident on Sunday, with participants urging European solidarity with the wave of migrants crossing the Balkans to reach the European Union.

“Europe open your gates,” read a huge black banner with pink letters held by activists next to a giant rainbow-coloured flag waved at the front of several hundred participants.

“We, the entire LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, stand by our friends in trouble, by migrants who come every day and, like us, only ask for their right to be happy,” prominent playwright Biljana Srbljanovic told the crowd.

Several other speakers also called for solidarity with the migrants and refugees, mostly from the Middle East, who have been passing through Belgrade for months on their way from Turkey and Greece and on towards northern Europe.

A year ago Serbian gays and lesbians staged their first incident-free Belgrade Pride Parade in four years, in what was seen as a test of the EU hopeful’s commitment to protecting minority rights.

At Belgrade’s first-ever Gay Pride march in 2010, hardline nationalists attacked participants and clashed with police, wounding 150 people and prompting officials to ban the parade for the next three years.

Sunday’s event passed without incidents amid tight security as thousands of riot police officers were deployed in the city centre.

Warmer reception

Several armoured vehicles, some with water cannons, were parked at main crossings in the downtown area where roads were closed to traffic from early morning.

Organisers said there had been significantly fewer threats of disruption by far-right groups than in previous years. It was such threats which had forced the government to cancel such events after 2010.

However, more than 50 people were arrested over alleged plans to attack participants in the gay pride parade, local media reported.

Police were not able immediately to confirm the figure to AFP.

Organisers hailed what they called a warmer reception for this year’s LGBT event.

The 2km-long march through the city centre, from the seat of the Serbian government to Belgrade City Hall, was also attended by several leading Serbian officials, including Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali and Jadranka Joksimovic, the Minister in charge of Serbia’s bid for EU membership.

Belgrade has been under pressure to improve protection for minorities including the LGBT community since starting accession talks with the European Union last year.

“I am glad that a parade is now regularly held, but this enormous police security shows that the way LGBT community is seen and treated by the majority in Serbia has not changed. There is a long way ahead,” Ivana Malisic, a 34-year participant, said, pointing to the cordons of anti-riot police that surrounded the marchers.

Homophobia is widespread in Serbian and other conservative Balkan societies.

Among the crowd marching on Sunday were fellow LGBT activists from the US, Britain, Sweden and elsewhere.

“I came from Albania, where I serve as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, to offer my support, to give them a voice and to help their voice be heard,” Jon Breen said.

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