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Despite public opposition, government permits march to bolster its chances of joining the EU
October 20, 201311:45AM ET
Gay rights supporters walk in the Pride March in Podgorica, Oct. 20, 2013.Stevo Vasiljevic/Reuters
Police used tear gas against dozens of rock-throwing opponents as about 150 Montenegrins succeeded in staging a gay pride march in their country's capital for the first time.
The government, which dispatched 2,000 police officers to keep the peace, allowed the march as part of the Balkan state’s efforts to bolster its application to join the European Union by showing its commitment to human rights.
After a tense but incident-free march, scuffles broke out in several places between police and people opposed to same-sex rights in the country.
Police used teargas and other non-lethal means to disperse the counter protesters.
The half-hour walk through the center of the capital Podgorica was the second attempt to hold a gay-pride march in Montenegro, a mountainous country of 680,000 people which began EU accession talks last year.
In July, protesters chanting "kill the gays" clashed with police protecting about 40 marchers in the coastal town of Budva.
This time streets were cordoned off and uniformed policemen were deployed on the roofs of nearby buildings while a police chopper hovered above the scene.
"We were up against enormous challenges but we did it...From this day we are no longer invisible," said Danijel Kalezic, the head of Queer Montenegro who organized the march.
"This was the first Pride and every year there will be more and more of us," he said.
The small group of gay-rights supporters carried banners that read "These streets belong to us, too" and "Everyone has their own right."
Another one read "Kiss the gays" — a pun on the similar sounding "kill the gays" chant, popular among some soccer fans and right-wing groups who vehemently oppose gay rights.
Gay-pride marches are now routinely held in Montenegro's Adriatic neighbor Croatia, which joined the EU in July, but same-sex rights remain stifled in the conservative, patriarchal societies of most of the Balkans.
Montenegro hopes to be the next in line for EU membership after Croatia. Before joining, it must demonstrate readiness to protect human rights. The government has already passed a bill against all forms of sexual discrimination.
However, the popular mood remains largely homophobic.
In a 2012 survey by several local researchers, 71 percent of Montenegrins said they thought homosexuality was an illness and 80 percent said it should be kept private.