The European Union on Tuesday condemned remarks by an Albanian Cabinet member that people participating in a gay pride celebration scheduled for May should be beaten.

Deputy Defense Minister Ekrem Spahiu, who also heads a small royalist party in the governing coalition, said last week that those who join Albania's first gay pride parade on May 17 "should be beaten with batons."

The EU's office in Tirana condemned "any discriminatory rhetoric as well as any incitement to hatred or violence."

Albania has applied to join the 27 nation bloc and Brussels issues annual reports on the country's progress in meeting EU entry requirements.

The EU "strongly urges the Albanian authorities to ensure that such behavior is not repeated," it said in its statement.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha also criticized Spahiu's remarks as "unacceptable," while Albania's Ombudsman Igli Totozani and 48 Albanian non-governmental organizations also condemned the comments and asked the politician to apologize.

Human Rights Watch called Spahiu's words "terrible."

Albania passed an anti-discrimination law in 2009 and also allowed same-sex weddings the same year. But there is still widespread homophobia in the small Balkan nation. This is the first time the gay community has felt safe enough to march, but the minister's comments have been seen as stoking possible violence.