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Interior Ministry is deploying 900 police to secure Saturday's Gay Pride parade in the coastal city - three times the number of expected participants.
|Split has been decorated with knitted rainbow flags ahead of the Saturday gay march, Photo by Spletkarenje|
The Dalmatian city of Split woke up on Friday decorated with knitted rainbow flags in preparation for the gay march due to kick off on Saturday afternoon.
Some 900 officers, including special police backed by a helicopter, will be deployed for the Gay Pride parade, in which around 300 participants are expected to take part.
Police official Pasko Ugrina called on the inhabitants of Croatia’s second largest city to "refrain from violence of any kind” adding that the police is ready to respond to any provocations.
Split Police also announced that the parade will be video recorded, which will be used to find evidence of anybody causing trouble.
Several government officials have pledged to join the march, calling it a test of the nation's democracy ahead of its plan to join the European Union.
In an unprecedented move for the Balkans, where gay rights are largely ignored and Pride marches are few and far between, the liberal centre-left cabinet openly approved of the event.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic called on Split residents to show tolerance and accept "standard democratic practice for Western Europe".
"The eyes of the European Union will be focused on Split on Saturday ... The gay population does not threaten anyone and we just have to accept them," Milanovic told news website Media Servis.
Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, who will join the march together with Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic, a native of Split, and three other cabinet ministers, said violence might complicate Croatia's progress towards EU membership.
"This is a time when we are laying the foundations for the exhaustive (EU) monitoring report in October, on the basis of which many member countries will ratify our accession treaty," she said on Tuesday.
"Should the Pride March be thwarted, it could be a problem for Croatia. It would go against our own laws that ban discrimination," she said.
But several nationalist and war veteran groups have issued warnings against this year's march in Split, calling it a "shameful provocation by sick people to which we will respond".
A Facebook group entitled "Blood Will Flow if Croatia Gay Parade Happens", have posted a photo of bombs intended to harm marchers.
Last year, when Split, a stronghold of conservative nationalists, held its first ever gay rights march, it was marred by attacks from a hostile crowd, which resulted in several people being wounded.
Police also failed to defend the marchers and were seen to stand by observing as the attackers threw stones and bottles at the column.
The European Union, which Croatia is set to join next year, said it would closely monitor the Split parade and called on Zagreb to ensure respect for human rights.
"We are encouraged by government members' plans to take part... but at the same time we express our concern at some homophobic comments by the local (Split) authorities," the statement said.
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