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THE NATION | AFTERMATH OF EXTRADITION

Young Rightists Rampage at Gay Parade in Yugoslav Capital

July 01, 2001|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — In an indication that this nation's political turmoil may be far from over, hundreds of right-wing thugs gathered in a central Belgrade square Saturday to block what had been billed as the city's first gay and lesbian rights parade, then went on a violent rampage.

In addition to beating some who came to participate in the parade, the young nationalists attacked at least one bystander, as well as police who sought to control the situation. They also threw rocks at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Union, one of the most liberal parties in the democratic coalition that last year ousted President Slobodan Milosevic from power and last week sent him to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"This marks an attempt by a number of small pro-fascist groups to discredit and physically endanger members of those political parties with which they disagree," the Social Democratic Union said in a statement.

The anti-gay and anti-liberal violence in the Yugoslav capital was organized by nationalist youth groups and soccer clubs, some of which had used Web sites to call for disruption of the parade.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac, head of the Social Democratic Union, said Saturday's events reflected "the fact that in our society, there are many people who are very aggressive and are political opponents of the new government."

Korac said much of the ideology absorbed by the violent youths was coming from politicians associated with the Milosevic regime who have been using nationwide television broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings to make hate speeches.

"They have been given their slogans and their ideas practically from the podium in the parliament," he said. "The whole debate in the parliament [by opponents of the current government] has a purpose--to arm the people who are either without a job or for some reason are living hard lives, arm them with pseudo arguments and lies so that, after that, they can attack other people.

"It is obvious that the propaganda from parliament's podium has an effect. These young people are simply soaking up what was said."

The new democratic ruling coalition has made efforts to discontinue the parliamentary broadcasts, but those efforts have triggered opposition boycotts blocking action on vitally needed reform measures.

The police issued a statement that seven officers were injured in Saturday's violence, two seriously, and that seven citizens were hurt. Authorities detained 32 people, including six younger than 18.

As the incident unfolded in Republic Square, groups of tough-looking young men gathered, shouting vulgar curses at people they suspected of being gay and beating some until police intervened. Shouts of "Hit him!" and "Kill him!" could be heard while a man wearing leather trousers was being beaten.

"We are here to prevent lesbianism and homosexuality," one protester said. "This is not natural. God didn't create this. God created Adam and Eve."

A prominent Serbian Orthodox priest, Zarko Gavrilovic, was among those at the square who said they had come to protest peacefully against the gay rights parade.

Gavrilovic said that he opposed the violent attacks but that homosexual behavior was completely unacceptable.

"That's why we rise up against that hell and satanic evil that some so-called intellectuals that are unfortunately in the top of the new government want," he said. "We didn't fight for the change of the Communist regime in order for even worse people to come to power--Satanists."

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Special correspondent Zoran Cirjakovic contributed to this report.

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