EU official: Anti-gay riots in Serbia send wrong message

Jelko Kacin says riots "show an elementary lack of tolerance"; US Embassy praises police for doing everything to protect gay pride march from far-right activists.

Belgrade pride policeman 311 (photo credit: AP)
Belgrade pride policeman 311
(photo credit: AP)
BELGRADE, Serbia  — An EU official said Monday that Serbia's failure to prevent an anti-gay riot could hurt its bid to join the European Union, but the US Embassy praised police for doing all they could to protect the gay pride march from far-right activists.
On Sunday, Serbian police fought running battles with thousands of far-right supporters who tried to disrupt the march in downtown Belgrade by hurling Molotov cocktails and stun grenades. More than 150 people were hurt and nearly 250 were arrested, police said.
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Jelko Kacin, in charge of the European Parliament's evaluation reports on Serbia, said in a statement the anti-gay riots "show an elementary lack" of tolerance for minority rights in Serbia and the "inefficiency" of the state in preventing such a trend.
"A very bad message was sent from Belgrade" that could hurt its bid to join the EU, the Slovenian official said.
However, the US Embassy in Belgrade said it "commends the professionalism and restraint exercised" by the police and Belgrade authorities "in ensuring the participants in the Pride Parade were fully protected throughout the event."
"We strongly condemn all the many acts of violence committed throughout the city, and call on the perpetrators to be brought to justice," the embassy said in a statement.
The same far-right groups set the American Embassy in Belgrade on fire during riots in 2008 to protest US support for Kosovo's independence.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to visit the Serbian capital as part of a tour of the Balkans.
The gay pride march, attended by some 1,000 participants, was viewed as a major test for Serbia's government, which has pledged to protect human rights as it seeks EU membership. Most of the rioters were young football hooligans whose groups have been infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other extremist groups.
Police said the rioters were "extremely well organized and synchronized" and that the violent protest "did not happen spontaneously."
Police official Milorad Veljovic said authorities have found a list of suspected organizers during the arrest of one of the far-right leaders.
Veljovic said 249 protesters have been arrested, including 54 minors. He said 131 remain in detention. More than half of the detained are from outside Belgrade.
"Today and in the coming days police and the prosecutors will continue with the detentions of all who are suspected of taking part in the riots," he said. "We will not stop."