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September 26, 2017

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Gay march a key tolerance test for Croatia

SPLIT--A gay rights march started Saturday under heavy police guard in Croatia, seen as a test of tolerance in the EU-bound nation after violence left a dozen people injured at last year's debut rally.

More than 300 people — many carrying rainbow flags, a symbol of gay activism — set off from a park in the Adriatic port of Split to march through the city while some 900 riot police secured the parade.

The marchers, with placards saying "Gay is OK" and "Equal in the Eyes of the Law," were joined by five ministers, including those for interior and foreign affairs, foreign diplomats and prominent Croatian intellectuals.

"It is important to give support to the fight against discrimination, for equality and against violence," said the interior minister, Vesna Pusic.

The European Union has made clear it would be closely watching events in Split, Croatia's second-biggest city, while police this year pledged zero tolerance for violence and banned a counter-demonstration.

The first Gay Pride parade last June in Split, a stronghold of conservative nationalists, was marred by violence as some 10,000 opponents came and the about 200 marchers were pelted with stones and bottles.

Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic independent since 1991, is set to become the European Union's newest member in July next year.

The EU has called on Zagreb to ensure human rights are respected and is monitoring the event.

"For us, what is important is the presence of Croatian authorities, their engagement to guarantee a peaceful development of the Split parade," a Zagreb-based Western diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Iris, 20-year-old student who came from the capital Zagreb, said she was taking part to "give my voice against hatred and discrimination."

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