Amid threats of violence from right-wing hooligan and paramilitary groups, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic announced Friday that for the third straight year the Belgrade Pride Parade -- which had been set for Saturday -- would be banned for security reasons.
Dadic said the decision was made after consultations with the Bureau for Coordination of Security Services determined police couldn't guarantee the safety of marchers in the face of "serious threats endangering public safety," the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.
Right-wing extremists had scheduled rallies of their own for the weekend, raising fears the situation would escalate into potentially deadly riots.
The Belgrade daily Kurir, citing unnamed sources, said the security bureau had received intelligence that several thousand well-organized right-wingers plotted an assault on the participants of the pride parade, with plans to break through the police cordon and toss acid at the marchers.
The sources said they had recruited supporters from across Serbia as well as from other countries with the intent of causing riots and chaos, during which they planned to loot shops.
Despite the security concerns, European leaders responded with condemnation over the weekend, only days after Belgrade's long-awaited EU accession process had reached a new stage with an examination of its legal system and protection of minority rights.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said he was "very disappointed by the Serbian government's decision to ban the Belgrade Pride once again. The fundamental rights of the Europeans to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression must be effectively guaranteed."
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minorities "must not be discriminated in the exercise of their fundamental rights," he added. "The case law of the European Court of Human Rights is clear in this regard."
British Minister for Europe David Lidington weighed in as well, saying he was "disappointed" with the move.
"Human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people. Respect for human rights is a core European value. As a member of the Council of Europe and future EU member state, it is important for Serbia to uphold fully these principles and demonstrate visibly its commitment to these shared European values."
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule called the parade ban "a missed opportunity to show respect for fundamental rights," noting that it would have been the closing event of "a successful full week dedicated to LGBTI population rights."
The European Commission, he said, "expects the government of Serbia to take all necessary steps to investigate threats of violence directed against the parade and take necessary measures to ensure that the rights to freedom of assembly and expression are fully respected in the future."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the cancellation "fills me with incomprehension and regret," adding that "the expression and freedom of assembly are inalienable components of universal human rights."
Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and head of the security coordination bureau Alexander Vucic, however, told Kurir the price for allowing the march would have been steep.
"I knew there would be such comments, but I wonder what would happen and who would 'win' had someone died," he said. "This raises the question of the price of the parade. What if the price was 100 smashed shops or killed police officers or one of the attackers?"