BELGRADE Serbia, which has banned Belgrade Pride - a march by gay activists planned for Saturday, has been told it must better protect human rights if it wants to join the European Union.
The EU, United Nations and Amnesty International were among those denouncing the ban, announced on Wednesday. The march was also banned last year.
"I strongly condemn the intimidation and threats from extremist organisations ... against the organisers of the parade and regret that those threats have been assessed serious enough to justify a ban on security grounds," EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule said on Thursday.
Conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept greater gay rights, and similar events across the region have often ended in violence.
Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, also the interior minister, said in a TV broadcast: "The last thing Serbia now needs are riots and casualties, hence all conditions for the ban have been met".
The government in Serbia, which was made an official EU candidate in March, is made up of nationalists and Socialists once led by late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Belgrade Pride was banned last year by authorities fearing a repetition of mass rioting in 2010 when dozens were injured and arrested as protesters opposed to the march clashed with police.
Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Serb authorities should set a new date for the march and allow the expression of human rights.
London-based human-rights watchdog Amnesty International said the ban put Serbia in breach of its own legal and constitutional protection of human rights. "The banning of the 2012 Belgrade Pride is a victory for prejudice and a sorry defeat for human rights and common decency."
On Wednesday, Sweden's European affairs minister, Birgitta Ohlsson who was scheduled to give a keynote speech at the event, said the decision was "deeply troubling".
"The rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join," she said, adding she would still visit Belgrade to meet gay rights activists and government officials.
The ban came after Patriarch Irinej, head of the powerful Orthodox Church, said the event was a "parade of shame" and asked Dacic to prevent it.
Both Irinej and Serbian Islamic Community also asked authorities to ban an exhibition by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin that Irinej said mocked Jesus as it showed him in women's clothes and high heels.
On Wednesday, almost 2,000 police in riot gear, aided by mounted officers and anti-riot vehicles, deployed in downtown Belgrade to protect the exhibition. There were no incidents.
(Editing by Dan Lalor)