RUSSIA

UN chief berates anti-gay discrimination as Sochi begins

AFP

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined activists in condemning discrimination against gays in a speech to the International Olympic Committee on Thursday, as rights and security concerns persist a day before the Winter Games open in Sochi, Russia.

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Ban said: "Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century."

Russia, hosting the Winter Games for the first time, has come under mounting criticism since the government passed an anti-gay propaganda law last year which critics say curtails rights of homosexuals and discriminates against them.

Ban did not specifically address the situation in Russia, but his strong statements – made in Russia just one day before the start of the Olympics – carry strong symbolic force.

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Ban Ki-moon: "We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbians, gays..."

"We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people," Ban told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in the Black Sea resort on Thursday. "We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face."

International outcry

Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the law as protecting minors and has said homosexuals will not be discriminated against during the Sochi Olympics. Sochi Games officials have said protests to oppose the law had no place in the city during the Olympics.

But athletes and activists are far from convinced that this law and continued crackdowns on protestors are harmless.

More than 200 leading international authors including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen slammed Russia's anti-gay and blasphemy laws as a "chokehold" on creativity in an open letter to Britian’s Guardian newspaper on Thursday.

In New York, pop star Madonna joined Russian group Pussy Riot in speaking out against Putin during Amnesty International’s “Bringing Human Rights Home” on Wednesday. The singers focused on the case of eight Russian demonstrators who will be sentenced later this month after being arrested at a protest in 2012.

Security concerns

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the country "ready" on Wednesday, two days ahead of the official opening, yet for many in the international community, questions remained over both rights issues and security.

Washington has voiced concerns about security after two deadly December suicide attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd and a continued stream of threats from Islamist militants in the volatile northern Caucasus region.

The US government warned American and foreign airlines Wednesday that terrorists could try to hide explosives in toothpaste tubes on Russia-bound flights.

‘Olympic truce’

Perhaps speaking to these security concerns, Ban also urged an observance of an “Olympic truce” in his speech to IOC and appealed for warring parties around the world to lay down arms.

Citing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Ban said: “I repeat my call, again and again, for all warring parties to lay down their weapons during the games.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)
 

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