BELGRADE Western envoys urged Serbia on Wednesday to make sure a planned gay pride march this month goes ahead without violence, in a test of the Balkan country's commitment to tolerance and diversity as it eyes talks on joining the European Union.
Authorities in Serbia banned Belgrade Pride last year and the year before, after a 2010 march triggered rioting by nationalist protesters and soccer hooligans. Gay rights activists say they will try again on September 28.
Conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept greater gay rights, and similar events across the region have often ended in violence.
The EU has made clear it expects Serbia to do more on gay and minority rights as the bloc prepares to open accession talks with Belgrade in January next year.
"A peaceful and joyous Pride in Belgrade on September 28, properly secured by authorities, would be another signal of Serbia's commitment to creating a culture of tolerance and diversity and will counter ... hate speech, discrimination and violence," Laurent Stokvis, the Dutch ambassador to Serbia, wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.
Fourteen Western ambassadors sent similar letters to Dacic.
The government has not yet made clear whether it will allow this year's Pride to go ahead, faced with angry opposition from nationalists and the vocal Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian patriarch, Irinej, last year described Pride as a "parade of shame".
Last year's ban was denounced by the EU, the United Nations and rights group Amnesty International.
In July, anti-gay protesters in neighboring Montenegro, like Serbia a former Yugoslav republic, clashed with police protecting the first gay Pride in the coastal town of Budva.
Gay rights activists have also faced violence in Macedonia, Bosnia and Croatia.
(Editing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Heavens)