‘Unacceptable’ parade by Russian homosexuals smashed by nationalists, police

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian homosexual activists were pummelled by nationalist protesters and arrested by police Saturday, preventing them from putting on a display of "gay pride" in defiance of a city ban.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said in a radio interview Friday homosexual parades "may be acceptable for some kind of progressive, in some sense, countries in the West but it is absolutely unacceptable for Moscow, for Russia."

"As long as I am mayor, we will not permit these parades," he said.

Police detained the rally’s main organizer, Nikolai Alexeyev, as he attempted to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbol of Russia’s victory against Nazism in the Second World War, just outside the Kremlin wall.

"We are conducting a peaceful action. We want to show that we have the same rights as other citizens," Alexeyev told a news conference a few hours before the rally was to have begun.

But police closed the entrance to the garden where the tomb is located and the first half-dozen activists arrived carrying flowers were set upon by about 100 religious and nationalist protesters who kicked and punched them.

"Moscow is not Sodom!" they shouted.

Women wearing head scarves held up religious icons, while men in Cossack sheepskin hats and black-red tunics stood by.

"We were expecting this. It’s the authorities that are allowing this to happen," said a woman holding a limp red carnation who identified herself only as Anna, a lesbian.

Riot police rushed in to separate the assailants from the activists but detained Alexeyev "as the ringleader," said British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who was in the group.

Police said later they detained 120 anti-gay protesters and gay activists.

"Both the authorities and the fascists had the same objective – to suppress the Moscow gay pride," Tatchell said.

Saturday was the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia and a number of foreign activists travelled to Moscow this week for an unprecedented forum on gay rights in Russia and the Russian capital’s first gay and lesbian pride parade.

By the time of the start of the rally, more than 100 youths were standing in the square opposite the mayor’s office, chanting: "Glory to Russia!"

Several trampled on a rainbow-coloured ribbon – a symbol of gay rights – into the ground.

"This is a perverts’ parade," said one protester holding an icon of the Madonna.

"This is filth, which is forbidden by God. We have to cleanse the world of this filth," said the woman who gave only her first name, Irina.

A member of Germany’s Bundestag, Volker Beck, was giving an interview before TV cameras when about 20 nationalist youths surrounded him and pummelled him, bloodying his nose. Volker Eichler, a gay activist from Berlin who witnessed the beating, said police did not intervene.

City authorities cited the potential for violence as the primary reason for banning the parade. But they also voiced disapproval of the very idea of gay rights. Russian religious leaders, Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Jewish, have all vocally opposed the parade.

The issue has split Moscow’s gay community, many of whom insist Russian society is still too conservative and a parade would only provoke more violence from skinheads and radical groups.

Gay rights activists estimate five to eight per cent of Russia’s 143 million people are homosexual and lesbian.

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