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Gay Pride March Held In Moscow Despite Ban

Activists carry a rainbow flag, the symbol of the gay rights movement, during a rally in Moscow.
Some 25 Russian homosexuals and supporters held a brief rally today in Moscow, defying a ban by the capital's gay-unfriendly authorities.

Despite the small numbers of participants, organizer Nikolai Alekseyev hailed the rally, called Moscow Gay Pride, as a "huge success."

"Today, for the first time in five years, the Gay Pride was held peacefully in Moscow,” Alekseyev told RFE/RL's Russian Service. “There were no excesses and not a single arrest. This is the first time that no one was detained at a Moscow Gay Pride."

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has consistently banned the demonstration, which he has described as the "work of Satan."

Since the inaugural attempt to hold the event in 2006, which erupted in clashes with police and anti-gay onlookers, annual Gay Pride rallies have been marred by violence and arrests.

This year's lack of violence was largely due to the organizers' decision to change the location at the last minute.

Demonstrators today marched for 10 minutes on the Arbat, a popular street in the city center, shouting slogans and holding a 20-meter rainbow flag -- the international emblem of the gay and lesbian community.

Watch: Gay rights activists march through Moscow. Video by Reuters.
Moscow Gay Pride Rally Held Without Violence
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Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in the early 1990s, there is little tolerance in the country to what Russians call "untraditional sexual orientation."

The Russian Orthodox Church has firmly backed the Moscow authorities in barring homosexuals from marching in Moscow.

Metropolitan Ilarion, speaking today on Russian television, described homosexuality as a sin and called on homosexuals to fight what he said was a "disease."

"People with untraditional sexual orientation don't necessarily have to lead a sinful life. There are people who fight this penchant and defeat it,” Ilarion said. “There are people with an untraditional sexual orientation who opt for a healthy lifestyle, found a family, and are happy."

Alekseyev on May 28 said his rights group had launched an unsuccessful appeal against Luzhkov's ban.

He now hopes for a favorable verdict by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is due this year to rule on a complaint filed by him several years ago.

Alekseyev says he is confident the court will defend Russia's embattled gay and lesbian community. "Next year, we will hold a completely legal Gay Pride parade based on the European Court's decision," he said.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.
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