ZAGREB (AFP) - Several thousand Croatians, including Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic's wife, on Saturday (May 21) joined an anti-abortion march in the capital, raising concerns among rights groups over a possible abortion ban by the conservative rulers.
Police said around 7,000 people took part in Croatia's first-ever "March for Life", which was organised by Catholic and conservative groups with the aim of highlighting the "inalienable dignity of life from conception to natural death".
"People are coming from all over Croatia to show that they are for life, family and Croatia," said Zeljka Markic, one of the organisers.
Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic's wife Sanja also took part in the march through Zagreb.
"Every reasonable person should support the March for Life initiative," she was quoted as saying by N1 regional television.
Singing popular national and religious songs, the marchers - among them Catholic nuns and priests - waved Croatian flags and held ballons in the red, white and blue of the national flag.
At the same time, some 300 people gathered at a pro-choice rally in the city centre, which was organised by civil society activists.
"Defending the right to choice," read a giant banner above an improvised stage in a Zagreb square.
The marchers "only goal is to decrease women's rights," said Bojana Genov of Women's Network Croatia association, insisting that the country's legislation on abortion should be protected.
Under a law dating back to 1978, when Croatia was still part of the communist Yugoslavia, abortion is legal until the 10th week of pregnancy.
Nearly 90 per cent of Croatia's population of 4.2 million are Roman Catholics, and the church plays an important role in the society.
Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, has described abortion as "a human evil" and a crime, although earlier this year he authorised priests to absolve women who have gone through the procedure.
Ever since January when a rightwing coalition took power in this EU country, civil society activists have raised concerns over what they say is a growing climate of intolerance.