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Europe

Pride Season Pits Pro-Gay Groups Against Intolerance

As cold European air gives way to a warmer front, the season of eastern European gay pride parades is at hand to remind authorities of tolerance toward sexual minorities.

A woman holds a banner during a Gay Pride celebration in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, June 3, 2007.

Gay Pride supporters in Latvia and Poland have been given the green light to march

Groups in Latvia and Poland received permission to stage Gay Pride parades in their respective capitals, arguing that it's their right under European Union law. In Moscow, however, the city authorities denied a pro-gay group a permit to march on Saturday for the third year in a row.

In the past, gay pride has prompted savage backlashes in the three countries, with marches banned by the authorities and attacked by religious extremists, ultra-nationalists and communists.

In 2005 and 2006, pro-gay activists in Riga were attacked by anti-gay demonstrators who pelted them with eggs, fruit and excrement.

In 2007, several hundred police, including heavily-armored riot squads, formed a human barrier at the Vermanes Park in central Riga as up to 500 gay activists staged a peaceful "March for Equality" inside.

In Moscow, organizers have appealed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to override the city administration's ban on the parade.

Up to 100 volunteers from Amnesty International's British and Scandinavian groups are set to attend events in Latvia on Saturday, Amnesty researcher Anders Dahlbeck said.

Concern over Latvian failures

Latvia's failure to protect sexual minorities "has been very concerning, and we believe our presence at the march will ensure that the Latvian authorities feel obliged to protect the march, including both Latvian and international participants," he told dpa.

Demonstrators carry a poster reading Love protesting city officials' ban of a gay rights parade in Moscow, Friday, May 25, 2007.

Gay rights supporters bring "love" to Moscow's streets

Members of the Danish parliament also plan to act as observers. "I hope our being there will give the right signal to the troublemakers," the Danish Social Democrat Flemmin Moeller Mortensen told a Danish radio station this week.

The troublemakers are mostly church leaders and politicians that frequently accuse gay activists of being pedophiles, perverts, criminals, drug addicts and mentally ill.

"I don't think we should allow a small percentage of society to spread their perversion" ," the Latvian capital's Deputy Mayor Andris Argalis told LETA news agency on Wednesday. "Otherwise, we will have to give equal rights to other groups of people with sexual deviances."

Riga's Roman Catholic archbishop, Janis Pujats, issued a letter this week condemning the parade as "unlawful," saying it is immoral.

The archbishop condemned homosexuality as going "against the natural order and therefore again the laws of God."

Poland 's tensions still lurking

Tensions in predominantly Catholic Poland appeared to have abated after the country's right-wing government lost elections last year, but they didn't disappear.

Police block screaming anti-gay demonstrators near a hotel, where gay rights activists gathered, in downtown Riga, Latvia, Saturday July 22, 2006.

Violent opposition to gays is still evident in some nations

Pro-gay groups and Amnesty International say discrimination based on sexual orientation persists. Warsaw's gay pride march is planned for June 7.

In the Baltics, homosexuality was outlawed throughout the Soviet occupation. It was decriminalized only after independence in 1991, but public attitudes have been slow to change.

Amnesty International also weighed in on Lithuania for failing to respect the rights of homosexuals.

Lithuania criticized in Amnesty report

In its 2008 report on the state of human rights worldwide, Amnesty said: "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) peoples' human rights were not respected and several LGBT events were cancelled in a discriminatory manner. (The Lithuanian) parliament also discussed banning information which would put homosexuality in a positive light to minors.”

Amnesty International Generaly Secretary Barbara Lochbihler with the 2008 human rights report

Amnesty International's Barbara Lochbihler with the report

The report also highlighted the decision of Vilnius Mayor Juozas Imbrasas to ban an EU-sponsored anti-discrimination truck from coming to the Lithuanian capital and to refuse permission for a tolerance campaign rally by homosexuals last May.

It also noted that sexual minorities were refused the right to put social advertising on public transport buses based on Imbrasas's decision to give "priority to the traditional family" and his disapproval for the public display of homosexual ideas in the city.

Romanian march goes ahead unhindered

Despite the seething undercurrent of intolerance still prevalent in Eastern Europe, public displays of solidarity continue against a backdrop of resentment and threats of violence.

Around 200 gay activists marched through Bucharest last weekend in a heavily policed pride parade that defied efforts by Romanian religious and far-right groups to have the annual event banned.

An injured unidentified German man is comforted by his companion after he was beaten by anti-gay demonstrators during the 11th Gay Pride Day parade in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, July 7, 2007.

Marchers were injured in Budapest's Pride march in 2007

Romania's fifth annual gay festival went ahead despite an attempt by anti-gay groups to get a court to rule against the march.

Before the pride march took place, two counter-demonstrations were held, including one by a far-right group whose members chanted "Romania does not want you" in a protest they said was "against sin."

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but gay people often face hostility in this largely conservative country of 22 million where the powerful Orthodox Church views homosexuality as a sin and a disease.

There were no reports of violence in contrast to the event in 2007, when around 1,200 riot police faced an angry mob and detained dozens of protesters who tried to break up the march.

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