An independent ombudsman that protects the rights of citizens and controls the work of government agencies in Serbia has defended the rights of gay people to hold public gatherings.

The Citizens’ Protector, Sasa Jankovic, also said he was pleased with the police response to violence at the Belgrade Queer Festival earlier this month.

A group of 25 people were the victims of an “organised attack by fascists” after attending the 5th Queerbeograd.

Mr Jankovic said he was “content with prompt and efficient police reaction in protecting participants … which has proven determination of the state authorities to protect the safety of all citizens, without discrimination.

“The fact that the state authorities are more engaged in suppressing violence in all life areas more efficiently, needs to be welcome as well.”

The Ombudsman, who is independent from government, also defended the purpose of gay marches and public gatherings, saying they have “no aim to promote any sexual orientation, but rather to bring public attention on discrimination of citizens who belong to one of these groups.”

Mr Jankovic expressed regret that two Serbians, an American and a Russian were attacked.

“Violence is neither a way of changing others opinions nor a mean of promoting one’s own, but first and foremost, a criminal act.

“The Citizens’ Protector is assured that the mandated authorities of the Republic of Serbia will continue efficiently to protect constitutional right to a peaceful public gathering and to process both, the perpetrators and those who call on violence.

“He strongly hopes at the same time that such cases will be significantly reduced.”

Before the festival began one of the organisers told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Serbia has seen some changes in the last year, a referendum, the ‘passing’ of the so called constitution, the fall of government, the independence of Kosovo, yet another election. All the time the political climate moves increasingly to the far right neo fascist identity.

“It is from this position that we place the agenda for our festival as direct action and anti-fascism – because we always want to take the most concrete steps to build bridges to smash borders, to see our liberation linked with everyone’s.”

The festival website refers to the first planned Pride Parade in Belgrade in 2001, which was blocked “by large group of violent homophobes.

A group called the Queer Belgrade Collective called for an amendment to the current Serbian Criminal Code for a hate crime provision and praised the “proper reaction of the police and support them to keep protecting all citizens from violence.”

Serbia is not a member of the EU but the government has declared European integration to be one of the strategic priorities for the Republic and it has been a potential candidate country for the EU accession since 2003.