The new Mayor of the Latvian capital has backed gay rights march in the city later this year.

In an interview with Diena newspaper, Janis Birks said he was ashamed at events last year, when bags of human excrement were thrown at gay marchers.

The Mayor called for tolerance and understanding on all sides.

Last month London Pride announced they would be “twinning” with Riga Pride as a sign of solidarity.

“The problem is not in the march but sexual orientation,” said Mr Birks.

“We need to have discussion within society. What happened on the side of sexual minorities and the other side, I think we need understanding from both sides.”

Mr Birks said that if security could be provided, the march could go ahead.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, welcomed his Latvian counterpart’s comments, but urged Riga authorities to do more to protect gay people on the march.

“Security is something that is under the control of the authorities,” said Mr Livingstone.

“It is their duty to ensure that demonstrators are able to exercise their right to peaceful protest.

“I urge Mr Birks to complete the stand he has taken and ensure a peaceful Gay Pride demonstration takes place in an appropriate central venue in the city.”

Riga Pride will be held from 30th May to 3rd June.

In a seperate interview, Latvia’s Minister for Society Integration, Oskars Kastens, said he at a loss as to why gay rights issues has become such an issue in the country of 2.3 million people.

“It is hard to explain this phenomenon. The gay issue has not been so topical in Latvia since the restoration of Latvia’s independence,” he said said in an interview with newspaper Neatkariga.

He pointed to the decision by gay rights activists to include a church service as part of the 2005 Pride celebrations as antagonistic in a heavily religious society.

Riga Pride 2007 will be held from 30th May to 3rd June. The decision to twin the event with London was announced last month.

Chair of Pride London Paul Birrell said,

“The contrast between London and Riga last year could not have been starker. London was the venue for Europe’s largest gay and lesbian festival with record crowds and a vivid demonstration of the capital’s commitment to tolerance and diversity.

“Meanwhile the brave men and women of Latvia’s gay and lesbian community, our fellow European Union citizens, were subjected to brutality and an appalling breach of their human rights in scenes that shocked the world.

“The new twinning partnership is the first step to bringing this unacceptable situation to an end, and supporting the human rights of everyone in Europe to live in freedom without fear of violence and abuse.”