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EU aspirant Montenegro guards gay march

EU candidate Montenegro has enabled a first-ever Gay Pride march by 150 activists in its capital Podgorica. Police squads repelled anti-gay protestors and later escorted the participants to safety.

Gay Pride activists walked for half an hour through Montenegro's capital on Sunday under heavy guard. Police said 20 officers and 40 anti-gay extremists were injured. About 60 "hooligans" were arrested.

The gay event was seen as a test of Montegro's readiness to protect human rights. The EU opened accession talks with the former Yugoslav republic last year.

Police used tear gas and clubs to stop protesters throwing stones and firecrackers from getting near the gay marchers who had been authorized to parade.

In July, gay rights opponents chanting "kill the gays" had attacked a similar march by gay advocates in the coastal town of Budva.

'No longer invisible'

"As of today the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community is no longer invisible in Montenegro, but we will continue the fight for our rights," said organizer Danijel Kalezic after Sunday's Podgorica march.

Marchers waved rainbow flags and carried banners demanding "equal rights for everyone."

Montenegro's Minister for Human and Minority Rights Suad Numanovic attended the rally.

Some 2,000 police officers had sealed off central Podgorica to safeguard gays and their supporters. Police fought back repeated attempts by opponents to approach or attack the marchers.

A daily Podgorica newspaper Vijesti said stones were thrown at its offices by anti-gay protestors.

EU's next-in-line

Montenegro hopes to be next in line for EU membership after Croatia.

Same-sex rights remain stifled in much of the Balkans by conservative, patriarchal attitudes. The influential Serbian Orthodox Church opposed Sunday's march.

ipj/msh (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)