TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister rebuked a Cabinet member Monday for saying that people planning to join the country's first-ever gay pride celebration "should be beaten with batons."
Prime Minister Sali Berisha called the remarks by Deputy Defense Minister Ekrem Spahiu "unacceptable."
Albanian gay rights groups are planning to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 in the capital, Tirana. The groups have demanded Spahiu that be prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws but the small monarchist party that Spahiu heads backed him, issuing a statement describing homosexuality as a "vice, misfortune and a curse."
The country's Ombudsman Igli Totozani has urged Spahiu to apologize for his comments last week, saying that he would be proud to be "the first to suffer from the batons" at the May rally.
Albania passed a law in 2009 allowing same-sex weddings but there is still widespread homophobia in the small Balkan nation. This is the first time the gay community has felt safe enough to march but the minister's comments have been seen as stoking possible violence.
"That is intolerable, a violation of human rights," said Altin Hazizaj, a representative of Albania's gay community.
Boris Dittrich of the Human Rights Watch called Spahiu's words "terrible."
"(I am) shocked that a high-ranking government official is calling for violence against peaceful LGBT demonstrators," he told The Associated Press from New York. "It's very important that the prime minister spoke out in public to denounce those terrible remarks."
Forty-eight Albanian non-governmental organizations also condemned Spahiu's remarks, saying that protecting gay rights is "a fundamental condition in the road of European Union integration."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.