Croatian PM urges tolerance on eve of gay rights march

Croatia's Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic called on Friday for tolerance on the eve of a Gay Pride parade in the Adriatic city of Split, an event marred by mob violence last year.

When Split, a stronghold of conservative nationalists, held its first gay rights march in 2011, some 10,000 opponents hurled stones, bottles and bricks at the about 200 participants, wounding a dozen of them.

Police have this year pledged zero tolerance for violence. About 900 officers, including special police backed by a helicopter, will be deployed for the event, at which organisers expect some 300 participants.

Milanovic said at a press conference: "I urge all those who think differently to show a minimum of citizens' decency.

"If it bothers them, they should turn away their head, but they should respect the right of others'' to a public rally, he said, calling on the people of the country's second city to "refrain from violence''.

"We have the right to be different, we have the right to express ourselves publicly. And that has to be respected,'' he said.

Earlier Friday police banned a counter-gathering planned at the same time and place, Split's famous waterfront.

However, a group of opponents called on citizens to take part in a "peaceful walk'' on the waterfront during the march.

The European Union - which Croatia is set to join next year - has said it would closely monitor the Split parade and called on the government in Zagreb to ensure respect for human rights.

Croatia's society is largely conservative, and the influential Roman Catholic Church has branded homosexuality a "handicap'' and a "perversion''.

- AFP

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