Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Angry Latvian protesters harass gay pride activists

AFP , RIGA

Latvian gays and lesbians along with supporters from the EU and the US dodged anti-gay protesters in Riga on Saturday to stage alternative gay pride events after a parade was banned.

Around 50 gays and their supporters, including Dutch European lawmaker Sophie Int'Veld, were blockaded inside a church where they had gathered for a morning service to show solidarity with sexual minorities by an angry mob.

The mob chanted slogans and pelted some of the churchgoers with human excrement when they left the mass.

This year's gay pride march was to have taken place in the capital on Saturday but was banned by Riga City Council earlier this week, over an alleged high-level security threat.

The organizers hastily put on an alternative event, at a large hotel in central Riga, to show "we are not defeated and will not be defeated in the long term," said Linda Freimane of the gay and lesbian support group, Mozaika, which organized the banned parade.

"Homosexuals are dirty sinners. They are immoral people and they don't have a place in normal society," said Viktors Birze, leader of the Latvian national radical organization NSS said.

Pastor Juris Calitis, who led the service, was among the worshippers hit by eggs and bags of excrement as they left.

"When we came out of the church, about 15 to 20 protesters threw human excrement on us. I was covered with it from head to foot. It was quite smelly," Calitis told a news conference in Riga.

Ivan Arenas, from the US, was also hit by a bag of excrement.

"You can see the cowardice -- I got hit in the back with an egg as I left and when I turned around to ask what was going on, I got hit by a bag of excrement," he told reporters afterwards.

Outside the hotel, more than 200 anti-gay protesters gathered, mostly Russian Christian fundamentalists and Latvian nationalists.

They spat at people as they entered the hotel and threw eggs at them as they left.

One woman prostrated herself on a car in which two of the gay pride organizers were leaving. Clutching an icon of St John, the patron saint of Riga, she screamed out prayers as the crowd shouted "No pride."

Ivans Goloveckis had brought his two sons, aged eight and 12, to the protest because he was "worried for their future."

"My ideology is based on the Bible, which says homosexuality is a sin and a man should love a woman. If we allow them to continue," he said, gesturing towards the second floor of the hotel, where the gay event was being staged, "my children will have no future."

Latvian folk singer Kaspars Dimiters said he was protesting because the gay pride organizers had ignored the wishes of Latvians in organizing their march.

"There was no dialogue about the gay march. That's why I am against it. They [the organizers] ignored that we are a conservative society. We can't adopt European values and rights overnight," Dimiters said?.

The march that was to have taken place on Saturday would have been the second gay pride parade staged in Latvia, which joined the EU in 2004.

Fourteen people were detained during the protests. One of them faces criminal charges, police said.

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