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About 60 arrested at Bulgaria's first gay parade

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian riot police detained about 60 far-right extremists on Saturday who threw a petrol bomb and tried to break up the country’s first gay parade.

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Some 100 gay activists marched across the capital Sofia to protest against discrimination in this generally conservative nation that is often hostile to homosexuality -- an attitude seen in many eastern European countries.

One militant protester threw a petrol bomb near the marchers, while others hurled eggs and some carried clubs, police and a Reuters eyewitness said.

About 60 people were arrested, police said. No one was hurt.

Religious and far-right groups as well as some political parties in the Black Sea country of 7.6 million had wanted the parade banned.

The head of the Christian Orthodox Church called the march “immoral and sinful” and the Muslim Chief Mufti said homosexuality was a disease.

A far-right group has called for a “week of intolerance of gays” and together with other groups threatened violence. Even Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said he did not like “the manifestation and demonstration of such orientations.”

“I am shocked by this attitude,” said Yasen, 32, who took part in the parade. “Everybody is free to make their choice and that should be respected in a European Union member country”.

The EU and human rights group repeatedly criticize authorities in east European countries for banning gay parades and for sometimes apparent discrimination against homosexuals.

Human rights group Amnesty International said on Friday it was concerned about the hostile statements by some far-right groups and urged authorities in Bulgaria to provide adequate security for the Sofia march.

Although homosexuality has become legal in eastern Europe after the collapse of communism, same-sex couples rarely make a public display of their affection.

Despite the general public disapproval of homosexuality, Bulgarians have a gay idol -- pop and folk singer Azis. The Roma gypsy, who wears women’s clothes and boasts penis enlargement, married his partner at a mock ceremony two years ago.

Additional reporting by Stoyan Nenov