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Belgrade Pride successfully kicks off Sunday, but Serb police battle violent anti-gay rioters

BELGRADE, Serbia – More than 1,000 people marched peacefully Sunday during Belgrade Pride, heavily protected by Serbian police on horseback or in riot gear.

Up to 5,000 police officers closed off streets surrounding the parade route to protect the marchers from anti-gay protesters in this conservative, religious country where gays and lesbians routinely face discrimination.

Riots broke out just blocks from the Belgrade Pride event, as right-wing nationalists and skinhead hooligans battled police.

NPR reported that more than 120 people were hurt in the rioting, and about half of the injured were police officers who were attacked by rioters armed with Molotov cocktails, stun grenades, bricks, stones and glass bottles.

Police responded to the violence by hurling tear gas at the rioters and sending armored vehicles into the streets in an attempt to disperse the angry mob. To see a slide show prepared by the BBC, click HERE, and to see their video, click HERE.

Nearly 190 people were arrested.

The anti-gay protesters chanted “death to homosexuals,” as well as slurs.

The first-ever Belgrade Pride nine years ago turned into a bloody display of violence after gay-rights marchers were attacked by football hooligans and nationalists.

Today’s pride marchers were confined to a small area in the center of Serbia’s capital.

Andy Harley, reporting from Belgrade for UK Gay News, called the Serb police the undisputed “stars” of the show for protecting the pride participants and keeping the anti-gay protesters far from the parade route.

Harley reported that police set up security checks to make sure the hooligans could not get near the parade route. He said that most participants were unaware of the violence that was occurring just blocks away.

The Belgrade Pride march was seen as a major test of the Serbian government, which has retreated from its ultra-nationalism and violence in the 1990s, as it looks forward to EU membership.

Today’s violence – just ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit – is an embarrassment to the Serbian government and many in Belgrade believe that politics played a big part in the rioting.