news 14 Jan 13

Croatia's Gays Hold Kissing Protest at Cathedral

Gay rights campaigners held the protest in front of Zagreb’s Catholic cathedral against homophobic statements by prominent priests.

Boris Pavelic
Zagreb

Some 100 campaigners for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights kissed each other and waved rainbow flags at the protest in front of the cathedral on Saturday despite being confronted by a much larger crowd of opponents.

"We are here to send messages of love from the place which only sends out hate speech," Matea Popov from campaign group Zagreb Pride told journalists during the protest.

About 500 opponents gathered at the site, whistling and hurling insults, but some 100 policemen ensured the demonstrators’security.

There were no clashes but police arrested several teenagers for throwing eggs and lighters at the protesters.

Afterwards police drove the protesters away in vans because the counter-demonstrators had started to jeer and threaten violence.

The protest was organised after recent statements by several top priests calling homosexuality 'unnatural' and 'pathological'.

"The conspiracy of faggots and lesbians would destroy Croatia," said Adalbert Rebic, a professor of theology and prominent priest, said last week in an interview with the newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija.

Some other Catholic dignitaries, including Zagreb’s assistant archbishop Valentin Pozaic, have made similar statements.

Their comments were sparked by a major dispute between the government and the Catholic church in Croatia about the introduction of health education into primary and secondary schools which includes teaching on homosexuality that the church considers unacceptable.

The centre-left government said that children should be better educated about health and sexual issues.

The church and conservative civic associations accepted the idea, but strongly opposed a part of it in which children are to be taught that homosexuality is normal.

Conservative civic associations asked the government to introduce two health education options, from which parents could choose, but the government refused.

The church appealed to believers not to allow their children to attend the classes, but education minister Zeljko Jovanovic warned that pupils could face punishment.

The dispute boiled over last week when assistant archbishop Pozaic compared the government to a Nazi dictatorship.

"Nazism got into power democratically, but then they imposed dictatorship. Is there any need to compare them with today's communists in Croatia?" Pozaic asked in a speech.

Opinion polls have suggested that 56 per cent of citizens support the introduction of health education and 34 per cent oppose it.

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