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Gay pride ban shows Serbia failed to ensure rule of law: MEP

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(BELGRADE) - The European parliament's rapporteur for Serbia Jelko Kacin said Monday that the decision by the Serbian authorities to ban the gay pride parade failed to ensure the rule of law in the country.

"What was at stake here is the question whether the institutions can secure the rule of law in the country. They failed to do so yesterday," Kacin said during an economic summit here, referring to the parade which was supposed to be held on Sunday.

He added that he "deeply regretted" the ban and said that the only way to restore Serbian citizens' confidence in the government is for the authorities "to effectively neutralise right-wing nationalist organisations".

The gay rights march, together with several counter protests, were banned on Friday after the authorities said the security risk of holding the rallies was too high as ultra-nationalists were planning violent riots.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told local media Monday that police arrested over 20 people linked to ultra-nationalist groups who opposed the pride parade over the weekend.

The Council of Europe's Belgrade office on Monday voiced "deep concern for the degree of hatred and violence in Serbian society" that led to the banning of the parade.

"This is a setback for the development of pluralist democracy in the country. Public authorities, civil society, the media and representatives of political and social life should... actively combat hate speech, homophobia and all forms of discrimination and violence," Antje Rothemund, the head of the Council's local office said in a statement

Serbian media and political analysts openly questioned on Monday who was running Serbia with many blasting the government for giving in to ultra-nationalists. Popular daily Blic had a cartoon showing the government building topped with flags from the Obraz ultra-nationalist organisation.

Press agency Tanjug said security experts estimate that there are currently some 30 extremist groups active in Serbia with around 5,000 members.

Dacic told journalists Monday that for him the parade was "a closed chapter" and added that he was happy that instead of having the parade on Sunday people "could enjoy themselves and walk the streets without fears that someone would bash their heads in."

Anti-riot police were deployed throughout central Belgrade over the weekend in a bid to prevent any gatherings following the ban of the gay pride parade and anti-gay protests.

In 2010 Serbia held its first gay pride in a decade but violent riots followed. More than 150 people, mostly police officers, were wounded in clashes between security forces and ultra-nationalists and hooligans.

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