Russian President Vladimir Putin is defending former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, linking the septuagenarian media magnate's conviction for sex with underage prostitutes to criticism of Russia's new anti-gay law.
"Berlusconi is being tried for living with women, but if he'd been living with men, as a homosexual, no one would have dared lay a finger on him," Mr. Putin said during the 10th annual Valdai Discussion Club in Russia, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
The BBC reported that the conference's Russian audience "erupted into roars of laughter," but the European guests on the panel looked "bemused and uncomfortable" as Mr. Putin grinned. The annual conference focuses on Russia's identity and role in the world.
Russian politicians, including Mr. Putin, have come under fire from gay rights advocates after the recent passage of a law that Moscow says is designed to combat pro-gay propaganda and protect children. Critics see the law as an effort to restrict gay rights and a legal endorsement of a climate of fear over gays in Russia.
Mr. Putin's remarks Thursday followed a formal opening address in which he lauded Russian values centered on traditionalism, according to conference's English-language website. In his speech, he excoriated the West for turning away from Christian values to embrace globalization, multiculturalism and a politically correct focus on the rights of sexual minorities and "one-gender families."
Mr. Putin said the West is headed "into degradation and a deepening moral crisis," the website reported.
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