Thousands Protest Planned Pride Gathering in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (TBEN) — Thousands of opponents of a pan-European LGBTQ event planned for this week in Belgrade marched through the Serbian capital on Sunday, despite an announced ban on Europe’s largest annual gay gathering.

The procession, convened by the conservative Serbian Orthodox Church and led by its clergy, included anti-Western slogans, as well as Russian flags and portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The organizers of the EuroPride — which includes a week of events and a Pride march in Belgrade on September 17 — have said they will ignore the police ban and hold the LGBTQ festivities.

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Members of the European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, hoping it would represent a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and heavily influenced by the Orthodox Church.

Serbia formally aspires to become a member of the European Union, but has been getting closer to Russia’s political upheaval for years. The Balkan country has voted in favor of UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.

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Serbian populist president Aleksandar Vucic, who announced the ban, said Serbian police are unable to cope with possible riots by right-wing groups against the Pride march amid a crisis over the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo and the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine .

Serbian human rights groups have urged supporters to join the Pride march as part of the fight for democracy they say is threatened in Serbia by Vucic’s autocratic regime.

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Several EU officials have said they will participate in the LGBTQ events, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling on the Serbian government to overturn the announced ban.