- - Sunday, May 27, 2012

TBILISI — Tens of thousands of Georgians rallied in the capital Sunday as the ex-Soviet state’s richest man launched his bid to oust President Mikheil Saakashvili’s governing party at elections later this year.

Supporters of billionaire tycoon-turned-opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream alliance packed into Tbilisi’s Freedom Square for the lavishly staged rally intended as a show of strength ahead of October’s polls.

“This struggle will end with our victory,” Mr. Ivanishvili said after receiving a hero’s welcome from the huge crowd that sprawled out into the capital’s main street, chanting “Bid-zi-na! Bid-zi-na!”

“Saakashvili is a coward who has no arguments except lies and violence,” he said, promising to win EU and NATO membership for the small Caucasus state and lift it out of poverty.

It was the biggest rally since 2009 by an opposition revitalized by the superrich businessman’s decision to challenge Mr. Saakashvili, although opinion polls suggest his alliance trails behind the governing party.

RUSSIA

Police detain 40 as gays push for parade

MOSCOW — Gay activists tried to stage two demonstrations in Moscow on Sunday to demand the right to hold a gay pride parade in the Russian capital, but they were blocked first by Orthodox Christian opponents and then by police, who detained a total of about 40 people from both sides.

The gay activists first gathered outside the city council building, where a few scuffles occurred as their opponents tried to disrupt the demonstration, decrying homosexuality as a sin.

After police broke up that protest, another group tried to stage a second protest at city hall, but once again police moved in and detained participants, including prominent gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev.

The majority of those detained were gay activists, but some of the Christian demonstrators also were pushed into police buses. Police said about 40 people were detained in all.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay sentiment remains strong.

Activists have long petitioned the Moscow government for permission to stage such a parade, but they have always been denied. Former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov described gay parades as “satanic,” while current Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said he disapproves of gay gatherings because they could offend the religious beliefs of many Russians.

UNITED KINGDOM

Party chairwoman failed to properly declare income

LONDON — The chairwoman of Britain’s Conservative Party apologized Sunday for not properly declaring rental income on a London property but rejected allegations that she had otherwise cheated on her expenses, in the latest revelation in Britain’s long-running scandal over lawmakers’ misuse of taxpayer funds.

Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s highest-ranking Muslim politician, acknowledged she had made a mistake in how she informed Britain’s upper house about a west London apartment she rented out. But she rejected a report by the Sunday Times newspaper that she had claimed expenses for accommodation in London when she had stayed for free at a friend’s house.

Ms. Warsi bought the apartment in Wembley in 2007 and moved in March 2008 when the Conservative Party was still in opposition.

After she became a government minister in 2010, she moved to a more central property and began renting out the Wembley apartment.

Under rules governing lawmaker expenses, Ms. Warsi should have declared the rental income and the full value of the first property to the upper house - the House of Lords.

Ms. Warsi said she had correctly listed the details of the property on a separate register for ministers but admitted that she also should have told the House of Lords.

“Due to an oversight, for which I take full responsibility, the flat was not included on the Register of Lords’ Interests,” she said in her statement.

Ms. Warsi flatly denied the Sunday Times report that she had stayed for free at a friend’s place. She said she claimed $259 a night for staying at a house in Acton, West London, when she did not have a property of her own in London.

Conservative Party official Naweed Khan was staying at the house at the time, and Ms. Warsi said she paid Mr. Khan for the nights she stayed there and then claimed the money back.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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