Polish mayor bans gay pride march

Warsaw - The organisers of a gay pride march in Poznan, western Poland, on Tuesday filed a suit against the city's mayor for having banned the event and allegedly violating their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

Instead of the march, several hundred homosexual rights activists went ahead with an illegal rally in Poznan city centre which drew vehement protest by Catholic nationalist right-wing political groups and football supporters.

Opponents were reported to have chanted hate slogans including "We'll do with you what Hitler did with the Jews" and "Gays to the gas chambers", referring to the mass killing of European Jews by Nazi Germany under dictator Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

The public propagation of anti-Semitic or fascist beliefs is illegal in Poland and punishable by prison terms. Gay pride activists have said they also intend to take legal action against those responsible for the slogans.

Police used force to remove the protesters, who behaved peacefully. Some 68 activists were detained and are facing fines and prison sentences for participating in what officials describe as an "illegal" gathering.

Rally organisers, however, have accused police clad in full riot gear of brutality, and intend to take legal action. Police, however, accuse gay activists of libelling police officers, calling them "Zomo" (reviled communist-era riot police) and "Gestapo".

Poland's left-wing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) opposition has accused authorities of violating the constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and assembly by first banning the march and then using force against peaceful demonstrators.

But Poland's new right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ludwik Dorn brushed aside the criticism saying police did not break the law by using force to disband an illegal demonstration.

Several human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights also criticised the city's ban on the event as a human rights violation.

Mayor of the central Polish city of Poznan, Ryszard Grobelny, banned the "Equality Parade" for gay rights on the grounds it posed a security hazard.

The official said he feared the event could provoke violent protests and damage to private and public property. The Poznan regional governor's office upheld Grobleny's decision.

The ban was also requested by local Poznan Roman Catholic clergy and right-wing politicians, members of the Law and Justice (PiS) party which won September's parliamentary elections and the Catholic nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR).

Warsaw's former mayor Lech Kaczynski imposed a similar ban on a gay pride march in the Polish capital this June.

However, several thousand Polish homosexuals and supporters, including senior parliamentarians from Poland and across Europe, went ahead with the march.

Last month the European Commission vowed to keep a close eye on respect for the rights of sexual minorities in European Union newcomer Poland after Kaczynski was elected the country's president.

While Kaczynski banned the gay pride parade, he allowed a march through the city by a far-right Polish youth organisation protesting against gay rights. The group, the All-Poland Youth organisation, is the youth-wing of the LPR party.

Polish gays and lesbians warned of a surge in anti-homosexual violence and hate rhetoric in the wake of Kaczynski's gay pride ban and the so-called "Normal March" by the All Poland Youth. - Sapa-dpa

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