Some 100 march in conservative Montenegro's gay pride parade

Podgorica (Montenegro) (AFP) - Barely 100 people joined a gay pride parade Sunday in the capital of deeply conservative Montenegro, vastly outnumbered by some 2,000 police amid fears of violence.

Waving banners reading "Traditionally Proud," "Silence = Death" and "This is Just the Beginning," they marched past the main government buildings of central Podgorica.

Human Rights Minister Suad Numanovic and Podgorica Mayor Slavoljub Stijepanovic joined the parade along with ambassadors of several member states of the European Union, which Montenegro is in talks to join.

Mitja Drobnic, the head of the EU delegation in Montenegro, also took part, telling reporters: "Human rights make part of the rule of law. Without results achieved in the area of the rule of law there is no progress towards EU membership."

He urged Montenegro to "prove through this part of the fight (for human rights) that it meets criteria for membership" in the 28-nation bloc.

Sunday's gay pride parade, which passed off without incident, was the third in the tiny Balkan country but only the second in the capital of Podgorica.

A parade in October last year was marred by clashes between police and hundreds of protesters who hurled stones and firecrackers to disrupt the event.

Around 60 protesters were detained and some 20 policemen were injured, of whom one was seriously hurt.

Montenegro's first gay pride march, held in the coastal town of Budva in July last year, was also marred by violence.

"LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in Montenegro still live in fear because of social resentment," said Danijel Kalezic, an organiser.

"I'm happy that today we were able to march for those who could not," he told journalists.

In the former Yugoslav republic with a population of 650,000, as in most Balkan states, gays and lesbians live in fear of hate crimes, claiming they do not trust the authorities to protect their rights.

"It is important that we stand together and say 'No'... at a time when rightist and fascist groups are getting stronger," said Sanja Juras of International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe.

Surveys show 70 percent of Montenegrins consider homosexuality an illness, while 80 percent believe it should be kept private.