May 31, 2008 / 11:45 AM / 11 years ago

Latvian gays hold march amid strong police presence

RIGA (Reuters) - About 400 gay men and women and their supporters held a parade in the Latvian capital on Saturday, accompanied by a strong police presence and chants and insults from anti-gay activists.

The annual gay pride event attracts controversy in a nation where open homosexuality is rare. The head of the Catholic church in the former Soviet state protested against it, but the president supported people’s rights to express themselves.

“We are all different, but we only have one country,” Linda Freimane, head of the Mozaika group, which organized the event, told a crowd of supporters after the march.

The event was peaceful, but police had sealed off both ends of the road where the march took place, as well as all nearby streets.

March participants, including people from Scandinavia and Britain, as well as representatives from rights group Amnesty International, were taken away in buses when it was over.

About 400 people, crowding behind one of the police barriers, shouted anti-gay slogans and chanted. “Homosexuality is a national catastrophe,” read one banner.

“It’s important to be here and show our solidarity. It’s important to dare to be who you are,” Swedish Social Democrat member of parliament Magdalena Streijffert told Reuters.

No Latvian government officials or parliamentarians took part in the event. (Reporting by Patrick Lannin and Jorgen Johansson)

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