Moscow gay rights activists defy authorities with rallies

Monday Jun 2, 2008

Gay rights activists held small, scattered protests in Moscow on Sunday, flouting repeated refusals from city authorities for permission to hold parades or demonstrations.

Activists repeatedly have tried to hold parades and rallies in the Russian capital to call attention to gay rights. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called homosexuality "satanic," has refused them permission.

On Sunday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the famed Tchaikovsky music conservatory, chanting "No to homophobia" and other slogans, organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Hundreds of riot police and journalists ringed the square in front of City Hall just a few blocks away in anticipation of a larger protest that had been promised but never materialized.

Supporters unfurled a banner from a building over the square reading "Rights For Gays and Lesbians!" before police pulled it down.

An Associated Press photographer saw several people detained by police. Ekho Moskvy said up to 15 people were detained; Interfax said all 15 detained were nationalists. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

For the past two years, gay activists have sought permission to publicly mark the date in 1993 when homosexuality was decriminalized, but city officials repeatedly have refused.

In 2006, gay activists trying to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just outside the Kremlin wall were arrested by riot police and violently harangued by religious and nationalist extremists.

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