U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday praised Serbian police for protecting a weekend gay pride march from attacks, as prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against the leader of a far-right group for orchestrating the violent anti-gay protests.
More than 150 people were injured on Sunday in downtown Belgrade in running battles with police as thousands of far-right demonstrators tried to disrupt the march by hurling Molotov cocktails and stun grenades at police.
"I especially want to commend the bravery of the police who provided security for the event at last Sunday's Pride Parade," Clinton said during a visit to Belgrade.
"It was not easy, and yet we watched as the official law enforcement forces demonstrated unequivocally your support for the rights of all," Clinton told Serbian President Boris Tadic.
The march, attended by some 1,000 participants, was viewed as a major test for Serbia's government, which has pledged to protect human rights as it seeks EU membership. Right-wing groups broke up a gay march in 2001 and forced the cancellation of last year's event.
Addressing reporters together with Clinton, Tadic said, "my personal attitude and my political attitude is that by protecting the rights of every single individual ... only then can we defend the foundations of democracy, only then can we have a free society and a prosperous society."
Serbia's state prosecutors opened a criminal investigation on Tuesday against Mladen Obradovic, leader of the Obraz, or Honor, group. He is suspected of "violent conduct" during the clashes.
The state prosecutors' office said another 130 people are under investigation for trying to disrupt the march and 66 of them were ordered Tuesday to 30 days in prison each as a pretrial detention measure.
If charged and convicted, Obradovic and the others could face up to 12 years in jail.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.