Police fire tear gas at protesters as Lithuania's first gay pride parade takes place

Published May 08, 2010

| Associated Press

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Opponents of Lithuania's first gay pride parade threw smoke bombs and tried to break through a barrier Saturday but were stopped by police firing tear gas.

Later, protesters threw rocks and street signs at security forces, and two Lithuanian lawmakers were detained after trying to climb the barrier.

About 400 people took part in the two-hour march — dubbed "For Equality" — in a sealed-off area in downtown Vilnius. Holding large rainbow flags and dancing to music blaring from loudspeakers, they walked along a road near the city's Neris river.

Participants included many foreigners, diplomats and members of the European Parliament.

"We are here because we believe ... in a just society. Labels are for filing, for clothing, not for people. And we are here today to remove labels from people," said Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden's minister for European Union affairs.

Some 800 police, some on horses, were mobilized to provide security and keep at bay more than 1,000 demonstrators.

Protesters carried crosses and signs and shouted insults at rally participants. A Catholic Mass at the nearby national cathedral was held to pray for homosexuals.

"Sweden has already wiped out traditional families. Now they came over here to tell us how to live, how to think and who to sleep with. Lithuania will not allow such perversions," said Jonas Kempinskas, who walked from the Cathedral to the protest holding a huge cross.

Police officials said 19 people were detained and one officer slightly injured. The two lawmakers have been released.

It was the first gay pride event in Lithuania, a largely Catholic nation of 3.4 million people that acquired independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.

"There were storm clouds this morning, but now the sun shines and we see a rainbow in the sky and on the ground. I hope this peaceful parade will show the Lithuanian people that there is nothing shameful or frightening," said Vladimir Simonko, leader of Lithuania's gay community. He said the parade would be held again next year.

The march triggered a wave of criticism, and a recent poll showed that nearly three-quarters of the population was against holding it in the center of the capital.

Earlier Saturday, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the office of a human rights organization — Youth for Tolerance — that helped organize the event. The device failed to ignite, and no one was injured.

The parade, originally allowed by the city council, was prohibited Wednesday by a court on security concerns, but on Friday an appeals court overturned the ban.

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