- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

GAYS IN BULGARIA

The U.S. ambassador in Bulgaria this week added her voice to other Western diplomats by endorsing next week’s gay pride march in the capital, Sofia, where last year’s parade ended in clashes between marchers and anti-homosexual protesters.

Ambassador Nancy McEldowney posted congratulations to the organizers of the Rainbow Friendship Rally on the U.S. Embassy Web site (https://bulgaria.usembassy.gov) and noted that President Obama declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

“Celebrating diversity, promoting tolerance and ending discrimination lie at the very core of respect for fundamental human rights, and this accrues to the benefit of everyone,” Mrs. McEldowney said.

“I congratulate the organizers of the Rainbow Friendship Rally and convey my best wishes for a successful and peaceful commemoration.”

Last year, police detained more than 60 protesters, identified in press reporters as “far-right extremists,” after a demonstrator threw a Molotov cocktail at the marchers and others tried to break up the parade, which included about 100 gay activists.

Some religious leaders also denounced last year’s parade. The head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Maksim, called on Sofia authorities to stop the parade and denounced homosexuality as the “fruits of darkness.” The leader of Bulgaria’s Muslim community also condemned the march. Homosexuality is legal in Bulgaria, but gay marriages or civil unions are not recognized.

This year, parade organizers cited support from the embassies of 10 Western nations — Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

British Ambassador Steve Williams, one of the first ambassadors to endorse the parade, clashed verbally with Boyan Rasate, leader of the right-wing Bulgarian National Union, which led the opposition to last year’s parade.

“He should mind his own business,” Mr. Rasate told reporters in Sofia. “He has no right to tell Bulgarians how to live in Bulgaria.”

Mr. Williams responded, “The United Kingdom supports human rights across the globe. That is reflected in my message of support for the Rainbow Friendship rally in Sofia.”

TICKET MASTERS

Britain is again complaining that U.S. diplomats in London are the top scofflaws among foreign embassy employees who refuse to pay a fee to drive in the British capital.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Thursday sent members of Parliament a list of foreign diplomats who owe more than $44 million in uncollected traffic congestion charges assessed on vehicles in central London.

The United States owed the most, with nearly $5 million in unpaid charges last year. The U.S. Embassy and other foreign diplomatic missions call the fees a tax and cite international treaties that exempt diplomats from foreign taxes.

Britain first cited the United States as the top violator of the charge in 2006, when U.S. diplomats owed $1.9 million on 100 vehicles registered to the embassy. At the time, about 50 embassies were refusing to pay the fee.

GOING-AWAY GIFT

U.S. Ambassador Peter Cianchette is leaving Costa Rica a little wealthier than when he found it last year by signing a U.S. aid package of $4.3 million to help combat drug-trafficking in the Central American nation.

He signed the deal Wednesday in what he called a “partnership” with the United States to fight narcotics.

In his brief tenure, Mr. Cianchette, a political appointee of former President Bush, promoted English-language education, helped implement free trade with Costa Rica and aided in recovery efforts from an earthquake in January.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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