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Official: Anti-gay riots send wrong message to EU

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s failure to prevent anti-gay riots could hurt its bid to join the European Union, a EU official said Monday.

Serbian riot police fought running battles on Sunday with thousands of far-right supporters who hurled Molotov cocktails and stun grenades to disrupt a gay pride march in downtown Belgrade. More than 150 people were hurt and nearly 250 were arrested, police said Monday.

Jelko Kacin, in charge of the European Parliament’s evaluation reports on Serbia, said in a statement the anti-gay riots “show an elementary lack” of tolerance for minority rights in Serbia and the “inefficiency” of the state in preventing such a trend.

“A very bad message was sent from Belgrade” that could hurt its bid to join the EU, the Slovenian official said.

The gay pride march, attended by some 1,000 participants, was viewed as a major test for Serbia’s government, which has pledged to protect human rights as it seeks EU membership. Most of the rioters were young football hooligans whose groups have been infiltrated by neo-Nazi and other extremist groups.

Police said that the rioters were “extremely well organized and synchronized” and that the violent protest “did not happen spontaneously.”

Police official Milorad Veljovic said that they have found a list of suspected organizers during the arrest of one of the far-right leaders.

He added that 249 protesters have been arrested, including 54 minors. Veljovic said 131 remain in detention. More than half of the detained are from outside Belgrade.

“Today and in the coming days, police and the prosecutors, will continue with the detentions of all who are suspected of taking part in the riots,” he said. “We will not stop.”

Veljovic said 132 policemen were injured, including five seriously, while 25 civilians were hurt, one seriously.

The anti-gay rioters also fired shots and threw Molotov cocktails at the headquarters of the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party, setting the building’s garage on fire. The state TV building and the headquarters of other political parties were also attacked, with many windows shattered by stones.

A gay-rights group said Monday one of the police vans transporting activists from the pride march was attacked by the rioters on Sunday, but the driver managed to escape through a hail of stones and other objects that damaged the vehicle.

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