Thousands marched in the Serbian capital on Sunday night against Europe's biggest Pride event, which organisers vow will go ahead despite a move by President Vučić to ban it.
Thousands of religious and right-wing opponents of plans to hold Europe's largest LGBT pride celebration in Belgrade marched through the Serbian capital on Sunday night.
The Balkan country's President Aleksandar Vučić said at the weekend that September's scheduled event would be "cancelled or postponed", although organisers have vowed that it will go ahead.
Sunday's protest was led by clergy from the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian branch of the "Night Wolves", a Russian biker group that staunchly supports Vladimir Putin.
Although it was held during a procession to mark a religious holiday, the demonstration was announced as a protest against the Pride event to "save Serbia".
Marchers claimed to be defending traditional family values. "Save our children and family," read one of the banners, while some protesters carried crosses.
Speaking to the crowd, Bishop Nikanor of the Serbian Orthodox Church welcomed the decision to cancel what he called "a desecration of our country, our church and our family".
People are ready to take to the streets again to oppose "those who intend to destroy Serbia's values," he said, according to images broadcast on the Glas Javnosti news website.
Others chanted slogans in support of far-right or nationalist causes. Some waved Russian flags, a show of support for Moscow, Serbia's traditional ally.
EuroPride is the largest LGBTQ+ event featuring a Pride parade on the continent, hosted by a different European city each year. Belgrade is due to host the EuroPride march on 17 September, as part of a week-long celebration.
Announcing the ban on Saturday, Vučić cited a number of issues including "a significant crisis in Kosovo", saying the move was backed by a majority of government ministers.
Serbia and Kosovo have been involved in a standoff amid tensions over a dispute over vehicle licence plates. Belgrade seeks to balance its ambition to join the European Union with its longstanding ties with Russia and China.
Most Serbian opposition parties and human rights groups have said they will ignore the ban.
"#EuroPride2022 is not cancelled. It will not be cancelled. Solidarity with BelgradePride - EuroPride 2022!" read a Facebook post by the European Pride Organisers Association (EPOA) in response to Euronews' report on the president's decision.
An EPOA statement said that a ban would be illegal and vowed that the event would go ahead. "Those opposing EuroPride in Belgrade are using tired old tropes, inaccuracies and downright lies to discredit what is, in fact, a celebration of human rights and equality," it said.
The EPOA thanked the United Nations Serbia office for its "strong message of support". In a statement, the UN's Serbia Coordinator Francoise Jacob said a ban would violate the Serbian Constitution's guarantee of the right to freedom of assembly, as well as the country's international human rights commitments.
"The Europride is... an opportunity to celebrate the foundations of a strong and progressive society based on social equity, equality of all rights, solidarity, friendship, and love," she said.
"The United Nations is concerned by the multiple incitements to hate and violence from a small minority of vocal individuals and groups, which has taken place in the past few weeks."
Among those to have tweeted their support for EuroPride are the Norwegian and Swedish foreign ministers. German Green MEPs Terry Reintke and Viola von Cramon met Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić to "stress again the importance" of this year's EuroPride, Reintke said on Twitter.
Sunday's march against EuroPride follows a similar protest earlier in August, but Vučić denied that the decision to bar the event was made due to pressure from conservatives and the church.