Serb defence minister, fired for sexism, vows to help women

BELGRADE: Serbia's defence minister, who has been fired over a sexist comment he made to a female journalist, vowed Tuesday to make it his mission to fight widespread harassment of women in the Balkan country.

Bratislav Gasic sparked outrage after a journalist from B92 Television knelt down in front of him to avoid being in the way of cameras as he spoke to a group of reporters during a visit to a factory on Sunday. He commented: "I like these female journalists who kneel down so easily."

Gasic told reporters he felt "disgraced and ashamed" and was short of "words strong enough I could use to offer my apology."

Activist Vesna Stanojevic, who runs a support group for women facing violence in the traditionally male-dominant Serbia, was not impressed.

"Whatever he says now cannot erase what he has done, which was very bad and which will have stronger consequences," Stanojevic said. "He knew about harassment of women before this; it's not like this incident opened his eyes."

Stanojevic, however, praised the decision by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to fire Gasic over the remark, saying the move "sends a message that such things cannot be tolerated."

Vucic on Monday said that Gasic cannot remain in the post and that formal replacement will take place in the coming days.

Gasic, who has survived several reported scandals in the past few years, has stopped short of offering his resignation but said he holds no grudge against Vucic and will help their Serbian Progressive Party any way he can.

Gasic added that "in our society we have too many cases in which we don't treat the women in a fair way, too many cases of harassment."

"I am very sorry that my behavior contributed to that in some way," he added. "From now on I will make it my mission to fight this ugly story."