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Mixed weekend for LGBT marches

The first ever Baltic Pride march in Riga, Latvia passed off successfully and peacefully on Saturday - but there was violence at similar events in Russia and Poland. A colourful collection of LGBT rights activists, joined by Amnesty International members from across Europe, carried rainbow flags and banners at the inaugural Baltic Pride event in Riga. The march had initially been banned after opposition from local councillors but Riga's Municipal Court overturned the ban the day before the event. The march attracted a group of noisy counter-demonstrators but the event remained peaceful. "We’re proud to be marching with you here today. It’s a march and a celebration," Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen told the crowd. "This march must go on beyond this one day. Amnesty International will be marching with you towards the full enjoyment of your rights. Now let’s celebrate!" The mood was very different in Moscow as police violently dispersed demonstrators at the Slavic Pride march, which had been banned by the authorities. Media reports suggest that between 25 and 80 activists were arrested as they protested against discrimination of LGBT people. Riot police charged the group and several people were detained. “The police brutality that we witnessed is shocking," said organiser Nikolai Alekseev. "We planned a peaceful march to highlight the dire state of LGBT rights in Russia today. The police, given violent legitimacy by the openly homophobic Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, did not hold back with their weapons, despite the world’s media watching." There were also tumultuous scenes in Krakow, Poland as counter-demonstrators protesting against an LGBT rights march in the city clashed with police. One person was reported to have been injured and 20 were arrested in the clashes, which did not affect a peaceful LGBT march in the city centre. Municipal authorities in Mykolayiv City, Ukraine, banned LGBT groups from holding public events as part of a "Rainbow spring 2009" festival for the second year running. The organizers had planned to mark International Day Against Homophobia on Sunday.