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Belgrade - The head of Serbia's powerful Orthodox Church urged authorities on Wednesday to ban a gay rights parade in Belgrade this weekend, saying it insulted Christianity.
Rightist groups have also threatened to hold a counter-rally on Saturday and disrupt an art exhibition in the Serbian capital, but police said they were ready to act.
“We will deploy enough forces to prevent any disruptions of law and order in Belgrade today and over the weekend,” said a police official who asked not to be named. “There will be zero tolerance to violence,” he said.
Serbia outlawed the 2011 parade at the last moment, fearing a repetition of the previous year's violence, when dozens were injured and arrested when soccer hooligans and nationalists opposed to the parade clashed with police.
Patriarch Irinej asked Prime Minister Ivica Dacic to ban the event he described as a “parade of shame.”
“It (the parade) casts a heavy shadow on Belgrade, our centuries-old Christian culture and the dignity of the family as the foundation of the human kind.”
Earlier this week, Dacic, who also serves as interior minister, said the parade calling for more gay rights in the predominantly Serbian Orthodox Christian country was a major security risk and that the police may ban it.
Irinej also asked Dacic to ban a “scandalous exhibition” by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, scheduled to open later on Wednesday, which he said mocked Jesus Christ because it shows him in female clothing and high heels.
Organisers of the Belgrade Pride 2012 have tried to defuse tensions, saying the exhibition was not an insult to anyone.
“The photographer is a religious woman and a mother of two, and her intention was to show that the essence of Christianity should not be rejection, but acceptance,” they said in a statement.
The three-month old government, made up of nationalists and Socialists once led by late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, is under Western pressure to demonstrate its readiness to allow the parade and protect human rights in order to keep Serbia's bid to join the European Union on track.
Traditionally conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept greater gay rights and similar events across the region have often ended in violence. - Reuters