Gay pride marches across Balkans face hostility

Gay pride rallies were being held Saturday in several Balkan capitals and hundreds of police were on duty to protect the marchers following calls by extremist groups to stop the demonstrations.

Nearly 1,000 marchers joined the fourth gay pride rally in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, organizers said, and hundreds were gathering in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, for the city's 10th pride march. Budapest was also hosting a gay pride event.

Gays and lesbians face widespread hostility in the macho-dominated societies in the region, and opposition to their public events has been fierce.

The Zagreb rally comes a week after thousands of extremists disrupted another pride event in the coastal town of Split, throwing rocks, bottles and firecrackers.

Croatia, which has pledged to protect human rights as part of efforts at EU membership, has promised extensive security for Saturday's gathering. EU officials said Friday that Croatia could join in 2013, after years of tough negotiations.

Due to extremist violence during previous parades, Sofia city hall rejected a demand by an anti-gay organization to hold a parallel rally. Gay Pride organizers, however, said extremists are using social networks to drum up resistance to their parade.