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Russian security forces detain one of the participants in a gay-pride rally in Moscow on May 28.
Dozens of people have been detained after gay-rights activists and opponents of an unauthorized gay-pride march clashed in the Russian capital, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Activists from Russia, Europe, and the United States had planned two gay-rights advocacy events near the Kremlin despite a vow by the authorities to arrest anyone who showed up after approval was denied by the city for a rally.

Some 34 people were detained in all, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service, including from among gay-rights activists and their opponents.

The crackdown against the activists was condemned by Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who characterized the incident another infringement on the right to peaceful assembly and a "sign of an...undemocratic state."

An RFE/RL correspondent said the fighting broke out after a group of "radical-looking youths" confronted gay-rights demonstrators.

Police wrestled members of both sides to the ground and led them off to waiting security vans.

Clashes broke out when antigay youths (pictured) confronted participants in the banned gay-pride rally in downtown Moscow on May 28.

Russian authorities have for years denied homosexuals permission to hold demonstrations on the grounds that they would cause a violent reaction in the country, where prejudice against gay people runs deep.

Amnesty International had weighed in to urge Russian authorities to allow the May 28 gay-rights event to go ahead.

Efforts that began in 2006 to hold the event have consistently been met with official bullying, arrests, and clashes with police and antigay onlookers.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled in October 2010 that Moscow authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by forbidding the rallies in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Gay-rights activists hoping that a recent change in Moscow's political leadership -- away from the famously homophobic former mayor, Yury Luzhkov, to successor Sergei Sobyanin -- might help them break the cycle have been disappointed.

Russian activists vowed after receiving the authorities' rejection letter on May 17 that they would proceed with the gay-pride event in the capital.

Homosexuality was a criminal offense in Russia until the early 1990s.

written by Andy Heil based on RFE/RL and agency reports

Prominent Armenian Opposition Figures Are Released Under Amnesty

Opposition leader Sasun Mikaelian received a hero's welcome from supporters after being released from prison on May 27.
YEREVAN -- The two most prominent members of the Armenian opposition remaining in prison have been set free in accordance with a general amnesty declared by authorities.

Sasun Mikaelian, a former parliament deputy, and Nikol Pashinian, editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, received a hero’s welcome from family members, friends, and supporters as they walked out of their respective prison facilities.

The two men played a major role in the March 1, 2008, postelection demonstrations in Yerevan that were forcibly broken up by security forces and left 10 people dead.

Like many other associates of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, both men went into hiding following the crackdown. Mikaelian was caught and arrested several days later, while Pashinian remained on the run until surrendering to law-enforcement bodies in July 2009.

"I will keep fighting," Mikaelian told journalists outside a prison hospital in Yerevan where he has spent much of his time since March 2008. "Nothing has changed in my political views and attitudes."

Mikaelian, who is also a prominent veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, insisted that he was "unjustly" sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of organizing what the Armenian authorities call “mass disturbances” and illegal arms possession. He was stripped of his parliament mandate because of that conviction.

Mikaelian, who lives in the central Armenian town of Hrazdan, was also unrepentant about his decision to back Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election despite being affiliated with current President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party. He said at the same time that Sarkisian remains his “comrade-in-arms,” alluding to the president’s prominent role in the war against Azerbaijan.

Mikaelian also weighed in on a dialogue between the Sarkisian administration and Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), which has been made possible by the amnesty. “If it’s really an honest dialogue, then I accept it,” he said.

Asked whether he would now campaign for Sarkisian’s removal from power, Mikaelian said, “The Congress will decide.”

Pashinian Defiant

Pashinian struck a more defiant note as he emerged from a high-security prison near the northwestern Armenian town of Artik later, chanting “Struggle, struggle to the end,” Ter-Petrosian’s signature political slogan. “I can’t wait to take part in the [HAK’s] May 31 rally,” he told journalists.

Opposition figure and newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian talks to the media and supporters minutes after his release from jail in Artik on May 27.

Pashinian went on to call for Sarkisian’s resignation and said the HAK “will do everything” to achieve it. He dismissed speculation that the HAK leadership is now ready to cut a deal with the Armenian president that would enable the latter to hold on to power.

The outspoken oppositionist claimed he was repeatedly offered such deals by the authorities while in prison. “Let nobody doubt that we will free Armenia from this kleptocracy and establish democracy,” he declared.

Pashinian, 35, was one of the most influential speakers at massive antigovernment rallies organized by Ter-Petrosian before and after the 2008 presidential ballot. He was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for allegedly organizing the deadly unrest in the capital. He denied the accusations as politically motivated.

The release of Pashinian, Mikaelian and a handful of other individuals regarded by the HAK as political prisoners has one of the main opposition preconditions for starting a dialogue with Sarkisian. The authorities are thought to have accepted this demand through the amnesty.

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