Authorities in Serbia have banned a gay pride march citing concerns participants may be attacked by right-wing extremists. The country's Orthodox church had called for the parade to be stopped.
The Serbian Interior Ministry banned the Belgrade Pride parade on Wednesday, with the government claiming the decision had been made on security grounds.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, who also acts as interior minister, said the move was "not aimed against anybody, but made to protect the interest of citizens and the state."
"We do not challenge any human and civic rights and freedoms."
"This decision was made to protect the security of Belgrade's population ... and diplomatic missions," he told reporters.
The announcement was made following rumors of violent counter-protests planned by right-wing extremists. The event was cancelled last year on similar grounds after violence at the 2010 parade.
This year's ban also followed a call from the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), Patriarch Irinej, to ban the parade again. The event planned for Saturday cast "a heavy moral shadow on our town," Irinej said in a letter to Dacic.
Organizers expressed confusion about the decision, saying that the reasons had not been properly explained.
Other gay rights activists said the ban showed the government was giving in to violence. One advocate, Boban Stojanovic, told the Reuters news agency that "the state has once again backed down before hooligans and violence."
Similar events across the Balkans have ended in violence before, with traditionally conservative societies largely reticent to accept the concept of gay rights.
rc / jlw (dpa, Reuters)