Croatia gay-pride marchers seek more same-sex couple rights

Some 2,000 people took part on Saturday in a gay-rights march on Croatia's capital, calling on the government to boost the rights of same-sex couples in the largely conservative EU-bound country.

"Hatred is Not a Family Value" and "I Have Rights Because I'm a Lesbian Woman -- Human" read some of the banners carried by participants in the hour-long Gay Pride parade through downtown Zagreb.

Special police marched alongside to separate the participants from onlookers, as marchers blew whistles, waved rainbow flags and beat drums.

More than 400 policemen were deployed for the event, which started with a gathering at a square in the city centre and concluded with an open-air concert.

Police said around 2,000 people took part in the parade, Zagreb's 11th, while local media put the number at up to 4,000.

Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic also joined the marchers.

The Zagreb march took place a week after a similar event in the Adriatic town of Split, seen as a key tolerance test for the Balkan country, ended peacefully under heavy police presence.

The Split Gay Pride parade was marred last year by violence that left a dozen people injured. This year's event was closely monitored by the European Union, which Croatia is set to join in 2013.

More than 500 people, including five ministers, took part in the Split march.

"Neither gay parents, nor our children, who exist and live in Croatia, are different!" the Zagreb parade organisers said in a statement.

They urged "equality, dignity and visibility" for all gay and bisexual people and their families.

In 2003 Croatia extended the same rights to gay couples living together as to unmarried heterosexual couples, including state recognition of shared assets. The law only applies to gay and lesbian couples living together for at least three years.

The government recently announced plans to boost gay couples' rights, without providing many details.

Croatia, still a largely conservative society, held its first Gay Pride parade in Zagreb in 2002. More than a dozen participants were beaten up afterwards.

Since then, parades have been organised in the capital annually without major incidents, but always under heavy security.

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