Heavy security as protesters outnumber gays at Riga Pride
A march for gay rights has passed off peacefully in the Latvian capital Riga.
Police arrested four of an estimated 400 anti-gay protesters, but the threats of violence against the Pride march did not materialise.
See photos here.
British and Swedish human rights advocates and politicians were among the 300 people who took part in the event on Saturday. City authorities closed off streets and deployed police to keep the groups apart.
The marchers were taken away in buses at the end of the event.
“It’s important to be here and show our solidarity,” Swedish Social Democrat member of parliament Magdalena Streijffert told Reuters.
“It’s important to dare to be who you are.”
In an interview published ahead of the gay march the Latvian President, Valdis Zatlers, backed the event.
“I oppose absolutely any kind of intolerance, and that is the basic platform which I will always observe,” he told newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize.
“I think that the main thing for people is not only to stop being intolerant, but also to understand others.
“We are talking only about tolerance, but we seldom talk about trying to form an understanding and comprehension vis-à-vis any minority group, no matter what kind.
“I think that every person must be given a chance to express himself freely, and that is what ensures tolerance, understanding, comprehension and also freedom. That is the main thing.”
Opposition to Pride marches in Latvia has been led by the Roman Catholic Church.
Last week the Cardinal, Janis Pujats, and more than two dozen priests released a letter to the Latvian government claiming that Pride marches are illegal.
“First of all, they are aimed against morality and the family model which exists in our nation and is enshrined in the fundamental law of the state, the Constitution,” the letter stated.
“Second, homosexuality is against the natural order and, therefore, against the laws of God.
“Third, homosexuals also claim unlawfully to have the rights of a minority.
“A minority is made up of those who are different from the majority of people because of nationality, language, race, skin colour and other neutral characterisations, but not of moral evaluation.
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“That means that there can be no minority of alcoholics, homosexuals, drug addicts or any other people if the minority is based on immoral inclinations.
“Otherwise this would be direct promotion of immorality.”
A survey of LGBT people in Latvia in February 2007 found that 82% of respondents were not in favour of holding Riga Pride, while only 7% felt that these events would help promote tolerance against sexual minorities.
Resistance to the Pride event has also come from Riga’s Deputy Mayor, who called it a “propaganda of perversion.”
“I don’t believe that we should spoil a few percent of society members by allowing them to propagandise their perversion,” Andris Argalis told LETA news agency.
“Otherwise we’re going to have to afford the same opportunities to other, similar groups of sexual oddities – flashers, exhibitionists, glue-sniffers.”