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In unprecedented move, Croatian ministers to join disputed gay pride march

Hrvoje Polan/AFP/Getty Images

Police guard participants in a Gay Pride parade in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, on June 19, 2010.

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Several government ministers in Croatia will join a gay pride march set for this weekend amid threats of violence from opponents, saying it was a test of democracy for a country due to join the European Union next year. 

Last year's event, held in the Adriatic city of Split, plunged into violence as police failed to protect the marchers from angry locals who pelted them with eggs and rocks. Several people were injured and at least 30 arrested. 

Several nationalist and war veteran groups have issued warnings against this year's June 9 march in Split, calling it a "shameful provocation by sick people to which we will respond."

Split Mayor Zeljko Kerum has also said he would not take part in the march, which he said was disapproved of by most residents. 

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Nevertheless, in an unprecedented move for the Balkans, where gay rights are largely ignored and Pride marches are few and far between, the liberal center-left cabinet said it approved of the event. 

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic called on Split residents to show tolerance and accept "standard democratic practice of Western Europe."

"The eyes of the European Union will be focused on Split on Saturday ... The gay population does not threaten anyone and we just have to accept them," Milanovic told Media Servis, a local electronic news provider. 

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Indeed, the EU delegation in the capital Zagreb said in a statement that it would be watching the march carefully.

"We are encouraged by government members' plans to take part... but at the same time we express our concern at some homophobic comments by the local (Split) authorities," the AFP quoted an EU statement as saying

The country is set to join the European Union in July 2013.

Similar marches have been held for a decade in the capital Zagreb under heavy police protection, but with a relatively few incidents. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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