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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The head of Serbia's influential Christian Orthodox church on Tuesday denounced a gay pride march planned for the weekend, adding to tensions over the event, which has faced threats from extremists.
Patriarch Irinej said in a statement that the "shameless" event casts a moral shadow on Serbia — a conservative Balkan country whose gay population has faced harassment.
Officials have suggested they could allow Sunday's event despite fears of a repeat of the violence in 2010 when right-wing groups attacked a pride march in Belgrade, triggering clashes with police that left more than 100 people injured. Authorities banned gay rights marches planned for the following three years, citing security reasons.
Holding the march is seen as a test of Serbia's pledge to respect human rights as it seeks European Union membership.
Irinej said that the pride organizers "and their mentors from Europe" haven't learned the lesson from the past marches, adding that "a great majority" of Serbs are against holding the event.
"Thousands of policemen will have to be brought to Belgrade," he said, adding that they face the threat of injury and death.
Several far-right groups, which include soccer hooligans, have announced anti-gay marches in the capital a day before the pride event.
Police said Tuesday they have filed charges against eight people who had made threats against gays on social media.
"Police are here to secure the safety of all citizens," said Milorad Todorovic, the police officer in charge of cyber crime. "I hope the pride event will be held on Sunday."