The European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights has condemned the violence at the Sarajevo Queer Festival yesterday as “cowardly behaviour.”

Michael Cashman Labour MEP for the West Midlands, said that Bosnia-Herzegovina must prove that it respects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people if it is to stand a chance of becoming a member of the EU.

Ten people were injured when a mob shouting homophobic slogans threw stones at the launch of the festival yesterday evening.

People leaving the event in an art gallery in Sarajevo were set upon by gangs, among them Muslims angry that the gay event, the first of its kind in the country, is being held at the same time as Ramadan.

“Young men, with hoods hiding their faces and some with long beards, yelled offensive words and also Allahu akbar (God is Greatest),” reported Reuters.

“Police said one attacker was detained.”

“We strongly condemn the attacks against the Sarajevo Queer Festival. It is a cowardly behaviour to challenge the views one disagrees with by violence”‘, said Mr Cashman, President of the Intergroup and one of two out gay MEPs.

“I also need to point out that Bosnia-Herzegovina wants to become a member of the European Union and the country should clearly show that it is ready for membership.

“Authorities and society at large must show that they can respect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people not just in law, but also in practice.

“Respect for human rights is at the heart of EU membership.”

Sirpa Pietikäinen, Vice-President of the Intergroup, said:

“Religious and political leaders should be aware that the violence of yesterday is a result of their homophobic speeches.

“They must understand that is not acceptable. Politicians should have the courage to stand up against any kind of violence and protect the human rights of every citizen.”

The Queer Sarajevo Festival began yesterday. The Dutch, Canadian and Swiss embassies are among those supporting it.

In the weeks before the event a Muslim politician in Bosnia criticised the country’s gay community for holding it at Ramadan.

Posters appeared on the streets of Sarajevo proclaiming “Death To Gays” and imams spoke out, claiming that homosexuality is immoral and contrary to the Koran.

Extremist groups and politicians openly called for violence against homosexual and transgender people.

There is an equal age of consent in the country but discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is “widespread” according to the EU.

Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in June.

The SAA represents, if properly implemented, a “gateway” to candidate status.

Agreements on visa facilitation and readmission between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina were signed in September 2007 and they entered into force on 1 January 2008.

In June 2008, the EU agreed on a country-specific “road map” for visa liberalisation for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EU continues to deploy considerable resources in Bosnia and Herzegovina within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

Following the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU Defence Ministers decided in December 2006 on a force reduction of EUFOR/Althea from some 6,000 to 2,500 troops.

The mandate of the EU Police Mission has been extended with two additional years until the end of 2009.