Moscow riot police break up gay rallies
Protests tied to global spectacle
MOSCOW - Riot police broke up several gay rights demonstrations in Moscow yesterday, hauling away scores of protesters hours before the capital hosted a major international pop music competition.
Activists had targeted Moscow, which was holding the finals of the Eurovision song contest, hoping to use the event's global popularity to draw attention to their claims that Russia officially sanctions homophobia.
Led by a mayor who describes homosexuality as "satanic," city officials had warned they would not tolerate marches or rallies supporting the rights of gays and lesbians.
Among those detained were British activist Peter Tatchell and American activist Andy Thayer of Chicago, cofounder of the Gay Liberation Network.
No injuries were reported. Most of the arrests took place at a hastily organized protest near Moscow State University in southwest Moscow, where about 30 protesters shouted "Homophobia is a disgrace of this country!" and "We are demanding equal rights!"
"This shows the Russian people are not free!" Tatchell yelled as he was being dragged to a police car. He was released a short time later.
Decades of official persecution of Russian gays ended in 1993 with the decriminalization of homosexuality, but opposition to gay rights remains widespread. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow has described homosexuality as "satanic" and sought to justify official discrimination against gay people in Russia by asserting that they help spread AIDS. Luzhkov has banned gay pride rallies in recent years, and attempted marches by gay activists have typically ended in detentions and attacks by nationalist groups.
Gay pride events "not only destroy moral foundations of our society, but also purposefully provoke disturbances that will threaten the lives and safety of Moscow residents and guests," City Hall spokesman Sergei Tsoi was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying yesterday.
Police seized gay rights advocates as well as some members of religious and nationalist groups that staged counter-demonstrations. They also took away gay rights activists for talking to reporters, and ripped the bra and shirt off one female protester.
Moscow police spokesman Anatoly Listovetsky said 40 people were detained, but media reports said up to 80 were seized.