SARAJEVO – More than 2,000 people turned out in Sarajevo Sunday for the city’s first Gay Pride march to protest hate crimes suffered by the LGBT community in Bosnia.
More than 1,100 officers, including riot police, sealed off the route of the march through the city center to protect participants from a counter protest by about 150 people.
Activist Lejla Huremovic celebrated the fact that members of the LGBT community had been able to make themselves more visible.
“Today, we say louder than before that we will fight with bravery and dignity for our lives (to be) … free of fear and violence,” she said.
“More than 2,000 people took part in the march and it passed off without incident,” police spokesman Mirza Hadziabdic told AFP.
Members of the LGBT community and others walked for 1,500 meters (almost a mile) starting from a monument commemorating the liberation of the city at the end of World War II.
Among those taking part were ambassadors from several Western countries, including Britain, France, Italy and the United States.
Demonstrators carried the gay community’s rainbow flags, blew whistles, played drums and shouted slogans along the route.
The march ended with a rally in front of the Parliament.
“We demand a society in which we will together fight against violence, hatred, isolation and homophobia,” said Branko Culibrk, another marcher.
There were gay festivals Sarajevo in 2008 and again in 2014, at which radical Islamists and thugs attacked people taking part.
But this was the first Gay Pride march in the Bosnian capital.
Bosnia, a country of 3.5 million people, officially bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but it does not recognize partnerships between people of the same sex.
“We cannot have civil unions,” 21-year-old Matej Vrebac noted to AFP.
“The day we will speak of adopting children is still far off. But today is the first Bosnian Gay Pride and we hope in the future to speak about all that,” he said.
Some Muslim associations and political parties representing Muslims had urged the organizers of the march to call it off.
On Saturday, a few hundred people took the same route in a march in favor of the traditional family, while on Sunday, around 150 people gathered in a park to protest the Gay Pride march.
Some cried out “Allah Akbar” (God is great), and said a prayer for a “deluge” to come and sweep away the Gay Pride participants.
“This city has never suffered a bigger humiliation than the one they prepared for it today,” protest organizer Sanin Musa declared.
More than 80 percent of Sarajevo’s 340,000 population are Muslim.