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Belgrade - The Serbian interior ministry on Wednesday banned a gay pride parade for security reasons for the second year running, after ultra-nationalists threatened the march and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church condemned it.
“Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens' safety,” Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement received by AFP.
“This does not mean any withdrawal or capitulation” before those who threatened violent protests, Dacic, who is also interior minister, said.
However, “it is estimated that at this moment public order could be seriously jeopardised, which could endanger the interests of citizens and the state,” he added.
Last year's parade was banned after authorities said ultra-nationalists were planning violent riots and that the security risk was too high.
The far-right groups and other extremist organisations had also used graffiti and Internet messages on hacked sites to threaten this year's event.
The ban was issued a few hours after the leader of Serbia's Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej demanded that Dacic forbid the march, branding it a “parade of shame”.
The patriarch also demanded that Dacic take steps to stop an exhibition of photographs by Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin which he called “deeply insulting”.
The exhibition, organised as part of Belgrade Pride Week, features photos portraying Jesus among homosexuals, transsexual people and people with AIDS.
It was due to open later on Wednesday and local media said extremist groups had threatened to target the show. The interior ministry statement said at least 2,000 policemen were needed to secure the exhibition.
Dacic also faced pressure from another direction, after Sweden announced that its European Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson would be the key speaker at the parade in an “act of solidarity” for the event.
It was not clear if the ban on the march, which came hours after the visit was announced will affect her plans.
During her visit to Serbia - a candidate for EU membership - Ohlsson was also expected to meet government officials to discuss the Balkan state's EU integration and the situation of minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Roma communities, the Swedish embassy in Belgrade said in a statement.
In 2010, Serbia held its first gay pride parade in a decade but violent riots followed. More than 150 people, mostly police officers, were wounded in clashes between security forces and ultra-nationalists and hooligans. - Sapa-AFP