Russian police detain ‘Christian Orthodox vigilantes’ at gay rally

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MOSCOW — Gay-rights campaigners and their opponents clashed at an unsanctioned rally in the Russian capital on Saturday, but a heavy police presence in Ukraine kept the two sides apart at that country’s first-ever gay pride march.

Russian police said they arrested at least 30 gay rights campaigners and Christian Orthodox vigilantes in Moscow.

The campaigners tried to unfurl banners denouncing Kremlin-backed anti-gay legislation in front of Russia’s lower house of parliament, but they were attacked by vigilantes carrying religious icons and crosses.

The lower house in January voted in favor of a bill that makes public events and dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000.

The bill, still awaiting final approval, is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains strong in the country. Government critics and gay rights activists claim that the Kremlin and the powerful Orthodox Church encourage vigilante groups to attack gay rallies and parades.

In Kiev, between 50 and 100 gay rights activists staged the ex-Soviet nation’s first-ever gay pride parade. They held banners reading “Homosexuality is no disease” and “Human rights are my pride.”

Ukraine authorities on Thursday won a court order banning the rally from going ahead in the city center, saying it would disturb the annual Kiev Day celebrations. The activists moved to an area outside that zone, and authorities deployed hundreds of riot policemen to prevent any attacks by opponents.

Last year, Ukraine’s gay and lesbian community canceled the event at the last minute when skinheads gathered at the planned location, intent on beating up the participants. Two leading activists were brutally beaten by radicals in subsequent weeks.

Despite condemnation from the West, the Ukrainian parliament is debating several anti-gay bills, including one that would make any public, positive depiction of homosexuality punishable by up to five years in prison.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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