Several thousand people staged an international rally in Warsaw on Saturday in support of gays in Poland who complain of prejudice, hostility and violence in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Marchers carry a giant multicolor flag during the parade in Moscow
A police spokesman said around 2,000 people set off on the
"Equality Parade" gay rights march through the centre of the Polish capital. The rally, officially banned for the last two years though thousands defied the 2005 prohibition, was given the go-ahead this year by Warsaw officials.
Organizers of the rally said earlier they expected politicians from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden to take part. Claudia Roth, head of Germany's Green Party, marched at the front of the demonstrators alongside leading Polish homosexual rights activists.
Claudia Roth, head of Germany's Green party, in Poland
Around 2,000 officers were deployed to survey the parade and march alongside demonstrators in an attempt to prevent attacks by far right groups, the police spokesman added.
A group of around 100 skinheads threw eggs at the marchers but were prevented from approaching them by police.
Climate of fear and hatred
Gay rights organization say homosexuals in Poland live in a
climate of hatred and fear that has grown worse since the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) entered Poland's governing coalition last month.
"We are afraid. The situation is becoming dangerous," said
Robert Biedron, an official from the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland.
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, prime of the heavily Catholic country of Poland, has likened homosexuality to a disease whose spread must be stopped.
He contends "homosexuality is not natural. What is natural is
the family, and the state is obliged to protect the family."
Biedron insists what he calls the "atmosphere of hate" in which
Polish gays live has grown worse since the LPR joined Poland's
coalition government last month.
"It reminds me of Germany in the 1920s", said Tomasz Baczkowski, president of the Equality Foundation which is organizing Saturday's "Equality Parade".
In 1928, before it rose to power in Germany, the National Socialist party, or Nazis, castigated homosexuals as a threat to German survival.
Increasing intolerance in Poland
Protests during Kaczynski's speech in Berlin
During a state visit to Germany in March, Polish President Lech
Kaczynski -- who as Warsaw mayor banned the 2004 and 2005 gay pride rallies -- shot back at a group of gay rights activists who were heckling him.
"I do not plan to persecute homosexuals or to hinder their
careers. But there is no reason to encourage it because it would
mean that mankind would slowly die out," he said.
Similar remarks from politicians abound in Poland and elsewhere in the old Eastern bloc.
On Friday, the head of a teacher training school in Poland was sacked for publishing a brochure that the Education Ministry -- led by LPR leader Roman Giertych -- denounced as "encouraging contact with homosexual organizations."
LPR deputy Wojciech Wierzejski was recently quoted by the Warsaw-based Zycie Warszawy daily as saying of Saturday's rally: "If perverts take to demonstrating, they should be hit with sticks... If they're given a few blows with a stick, they won't come back. A gay is a coward by definition."
Wierzejski has denied making the comments.
When gay rights supporters in Poznan defied a ban by the city's conservative authorities to stage a "march for tolerance", they were pelted with eggs by far-right activists and denounced by the Catholic church as going "against natural law".
Crackdown on gay parade in Moscow
Many of formerly communist eastern Europe's anti-gay groups find support for their position in the church, which has regained a strong foothold in society since the demise of communism in the early 1990s.
Last week, ahead of a gay rights march in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, the powerful Orthodox Church and conservative groups slammed homosexuality as immoral and abnormal.
German politician Volker Beck who was injured during the Moscow gay rights parade
In Russia, a small group of gay activists who defied a ban on a
rally in Moscow last month were met by violent counter-protesters. The ensuing scuffles also injured a prominent German politician.
The Moscow gay parade had been banned by the city's mayor, saying homosexuals had no inherent right to promote their "immoral" sexual "deviations".
Repression of gays in Latvia
In the Baltic state of Latvia, a Soviet republic until 1991 and now a member of the EU, a court on Thursday rejected a claim by openly gay Lutheran Reverend Maris Sants that he was not given a job as religious history teacher because of his sexual orientation.
The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the largest in the Baltic state, excommunicated Sants in 2002 after he admitted his homosexuality.
"The democratization process in Latvia has allowed lesbians and gays to establish organizations and... bars, clubs, stores, libraries, etc. Ufortunately, however, our society has not reached a high level of tolerance, which clearly is a consequence of 50 years of totalitarianism," the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has said.
Life isn't easy for homosexuals in many eastern European countries
In December, the Latvian parliament voted to bar same-sex marriages. And in August last year, Latvian Catholic Cardinal Janis Pujats slammed the first-ever gay parade in the capital, Riga.
"In Soviet times we faced atheism, which oppressed religion; now we have an era of sexual atheism," Pujats said in a homily to mark the feast of the Assumption.
Last year's gay parade in Riga attracted only 50 participants,
who were vastly outnumbered by several thousand mostly unsympathetic onlookers and a few violent counter-demonstrators.
"In other countries (gay) pride parades are a festivity, but here one should be afraid of abuse," said Juris Lavrikovs.