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Activists Vow To Defy Moscow Gay-Parade Ban

A flyer for gay pride near the Kremlin and Russian Duma on May 18
Russian gay-rights activists have expressed disappointment after Moscow authorities banned a gay-pride march in the city.

The decision by Moscow's city hall quashes hopes the new mayor will foster more tolerance toward Russia's beleaguered homosexual community.

Russia's top gay-rights activist, Nikolai Alekseyev, says he received a letter from the mayor's office on May 17 outlawing the rally on the grounds that it could spark civil unrest.

A representative of the mayor's office press department confirmed the ban.

Since the first attempt to hold the event in 2006, the annual gay-pride rallies have been marred by arrests and violent clashes with police and anti-gay onlookers.

Ironically, Alekseyev says the ban was announced on a day celebrated annually by gay-rights activists.

"I don't think it was premeditated, it's simply a coincidence, but this coincidence is nonetheless symbolic," Alekseyev says. "As events are held around the world -- including at an official level -- to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Russia pursues its caveman, primitive policy of bans."

Amnesty International quickly called on Moscow authorities to overturn their decision, saying public morality concerns should never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Same City, Different 'Homophobe'

Alekseyev says activists will continue their tradition of defying the ban and will hold the rally, initially planned for May 28 on a square close to the Kremlin.

The rebuff is a major disappointment for those who had hoped the new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, would prove more tolerant than his notoriously homophobic predecessor, Yury Luzhkov.

Luzhkov had famously branded the gay-pride rallies as the "work of Satan."

"We had hopes, but these hopes have now definitely been shattered," Alekseyev says. "Unfortunately, they have simply replaced one homophobe with another."

Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in the early 1990s, there is little tolerance in the country toward gays and lesbians, who say they face routine discrimination.

No Relief

The Russian Orthodox Church, whose representatives have consistently described homosexuality as a disease, has firmly backed Moscow's stance on the rallies.

The latest ban comes despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Russian homosexuals.

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

It has ordered Russia to pay Alekseyev and his colleagues 29,000 euros ($41,269) in damages.