SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Hundreds of Bulgarian nationalists marched through the country's capital on Saturday to honor a World War II general known for his anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi activities.

The government had banned the rally saying it harms the image of the country, which currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, but the organizers secured a court order overturning the ban.

The annual "Lukov March," staged by the far-right Bulgarian National Union, attracted hundreds of dark-clad supporters who walked through downtown Sofia holding torches and Bulgarian flags, and chanting nationalist slogans.

Police guarded the procession from possible attacks of opponents of the event.

The marchers praised Gen. Hristo Lukov, who had supported Germany during the Second World War and was killed by an anti-fascist resistance movement on Feb. 13, 1943. The general served as war minister from 1935 to 1938, and led the pro-Nazi Germany Union of Bulgarian Legions from 1932 until 1943.

Organizers deny that Lukov was an anti-Semitic fascist or that they were neo-fascists, but claim that the descendants of the murderers of Lukov were afraid of the event.

One of the leaders of the Union, 32-year-old Plamen Dimitrov, said ahead of the march that a "vast majority of young Bulgarians" approve of their activities.

He also said that several nationalist supporters from Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia had arrived to join the event.

"They are here today because the survival of all European people is jeopardized," he told reporters.

Human rights groups, political parties and foreign embassies condemned the Lukov March and criticized its organizers for promoting racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

The U.S. Embassy to Bulgaria expressed concern about "the display of intolerance represented by the Lukov March."

"General Hristo Lukov was a Nazi supporter who promoted hate and injustice, and is not someone deserving of veneration," the embassy said in a statement.