Thousands March for Gay Rights in Croatia

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ZAGREB -- Several thousand people held a gay pride march on Saturday in Croatia, where conservatives backed by the influential Catholic Church want to make same sex marriage illegal, while neighboring Slovenia's president led a similar march in his country's capital.

There were no incidents as the crowds carrying flags and banners and guarded by police gathered and then marched through the center of Croatia's capital, Zagreb.

"This pride parade is not directed against others, not even against those who hate us and view us as second-rate citizens," an organizer Marko Jurcic said.

Croatia's foreign minister and prime minister's wife joined the march in a sign of support.

An anti-gay group in Croatia has gathered more than 700,000 signatures in support of a referendum to have the country's constitution define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Zeljka Markic, a representative of the group, said "the aim is for the citizens to have a say over how to define the question of marriage and family."

The dispute over gay rights has divided Croatia just weeks before it becomes 28th member of the European Union. The country has taken steps to improve gay rights, but issues such as same-sex marriage remain highly sensitive in the staunchly Catholic nation.

The Catholic Church in Croatia also has clashed with the liberal government over the introduction of sex education in schools, which was suspended months later by the country's top court.

In neighboring Slovenia, President Borut Pahor led the gay pride march in the capital of Ljubljana, the first president of this tiny Alpine nation to do so. Hundreds attended the gathering on a bright, sunny day, walking through the city center. There were no incidents reported.

In Germany, some 1,500 people took part in a " Christopher Street Day" parade in the northern city of Oldenburg. Participants there celebrated a recent verdict by Germany's top court ruling that gay couples in civil unions should receive the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples.

From the Associated PressAssociated Press

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