Moscow police disperse gay rights protesters
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Police in Moscow broke up a gay rights demonstration ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest and arrested some 20 people, including Nikolai Alexeyev, creator of the GayRussia.ru Web site and the main organiser of the protest.
AFP - Moscow police arrested around 20 activists at a gay rights protest hours before the final of the Eurovision Song Contest was due to start in the Russian capital Saturday.
About 15 protestors shouted "Homophobia is the shame of Russia!" and "Equal rights for everyone!" at the unsanctioned rally before being arrested by riot police, an AFP journalist witnessed.
Later police dragged away about five more protestors when they tried to speak to journalists.
The detained people included Nikolai Alexeyev, creator of the GayRussia.ru website and the main organiser of the protest, a man dressed in a bride's costume and a gay activist from the United States.
Gay rights' advocates in Moscow have stepped up their activities in the run-up to Eurovision, an annual pop-music contest with a big gay following that is being held in Russia for the first time this year.
Saturday's "Slavic Gay Pride" parade near Moscow State University in the southwest of the capital was held despite being banned by the authorities.
The Moscow city government has repeatedly denied gay activists permission to hold a gay pride parade in recent years, and those who showed up anyway have been arrested by police and attacked by ultra-nationalists.
"Today they are not only fighting for gay and lesbian freedom here in Russia, they are fighting for the soul of Russian democracy," US activist Andy Thayer told reporters just before his arrest.
"If democracy is taken away from lesbian and gay people here in Russia, then other Russians have to fear for their freedom," said Thayer, a co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network.
Homophobia is widespread in Russia, which considered homosexuality a crime until 1993 and only ceased to classify it as mental illness in 1999.