Riga holds first peaceful gay parade

4th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

4 June 2007, Riga (dpa) - Police were out in force in the Latvian capital on Sunday as local pro-gay groups held a largely peaceful parade. Several hundred policemen, including heavily-armoured riot squads, formed a human barrier inside and outside the fences of the Vermanes park in central Riga as up to 500 pro-gay activists staged a "march for equality" inside the park. In 2005 and 2006, pro-gay activists in Riga were attacked by anti- gay demonstrators who pelted them with eggs, fruit and excrement. "If

4 June 2007

Riga (dpa) - Police were out in force in the Latvian capital on Sunday as local pro-gay groups held a largely peaceful parade.

Several hundred policemen, including heavily-armoured riot squads, formed a human barrier inside and outside the fences of the Vermanes park in central Riga as up to 500 pro-gay activists staged a "march for equality" inside the park.

In 2005 and 2006, pro-gay activists in Riga were attacked by anti- gay demonstrators who pelted them with eggs, fruit and excrement.

"If we backed off now and said it was too dangerous to hold another parade, it would give the green light to violent and brutal groups who are trying to limit other people's right to the freedom of assembly," Linda Freimane, one of the parade's organizers, said.

The attacks were widely condemned across Europe, with representatives of the European and national parliaments, human- rights group Amnesty International and London-based activists all coming to Riga to support this year's parade.

"We come not as missionaries but as observers, so we can bring international attention to your event," said Volker Beck, a member of the German parliament.

Outside the fences and police lines, several dozen counter- demonstrators gathered to hurl abuse at the parade. "Fags are not human!" and "You have no rights!" were among the slogans used.

And a Christian-fundamentalist preacher who is one of the leaders of the anti-gay movement in Latvia, Alexei Ledjajev, attempted to cross the police lines with his bodyguards.

"The government wants to start a new homosexual occupation of Latvia ... It's a scandal when these maniacs and paedophiles who rape children are allowed to fight against normal people," he said.

As the pro-gay marchers left the area under heavy escort, two men hurled missiles at them. The devices exploded with a thunderous noise but caused no injuries, and the men were arrested on the spot.

Half a kilometre from the march, meanwhile, anti-gay groups led by nationalist and Christian extremists held a concert entitled "The world against homosexualism" on the banks of the Daugava river.

Organizers had promised an attendance of up to 40,000, but no more than 1,000 attendees were observed there at one time, with an estimated 5,000 thought to have been there during the afternoon.

"I'm here because I don't like what's happening in the Vermanes park. We're against perversion, more than half of Latvians are against it, so what kind of democracy is this?" Riga resident Juna, 19, who attended the concert in an anti-gay T-shirt, said.

Homosexuality was outlawed in Latvia throughout the Soviet occupation, and only became legal after independence in 1991.

It is still a little-understood topic: gays are regularly accused by public figures, including church leaders and politicians, of being paedophiles, perverts, criminals, drug addicts and sick.

Since the attacks in 2006, many politicians have toned down their rhetoric. Hardline groups have toughened theirs, however, forging links with anti-gay groups in the US

DPA

Subject: German news

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