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Ahead Of Sochi, UN Chief Decries Discrimination

A staff member (left) adjusts the Olympic Torch while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) poses with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach ahead of an IOC session in Sochi on February 6.
A staff member (left) adjusts the Olympic Torch while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) poses with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach ahead of an IOC session in Sochi on February 6.
In a speech to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned attacks and discrimination against homosexuals.

The UN chief was speaking in the Russian resort of Sochi on February 6, one day before the official opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ban's remarks come amid international criticism of Russia's law banning gay "propaganda."

Rights groups and many Western states have denounced it as discriminatory, saying it could be used to punish almost any public expression of support for gay rights.

Ban did not mention Russia directly, but said: "We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbians and gays, bisexual, transgender, or intersex people. We must oppose the arrest, imprisonment, and discriminatory restrictions they face."

Ban backed the idea that the Olympic movement is aimed at uniting people in the spirit of competition -- not dividing them based on differences of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

"The Olympics show the power of sports to unite people regardless of age, race and class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity," Ban said. "The Olympics give us an opportunity to celebrate everyone's right to compete on equal terms no matter what they look like, where they come from, or whom they love."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to assure the world there will be no discrimination at the Sochi games.

However, a senior official in Putin's government on February 6 issued a warning to athletes and visitors to Sochi against challenging the Russian "propaganda" law.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said homosexuals "can make propaganda about their sexual orientation among adults" but should "leave the kids alone."

"We don't have any differentiation of people's rights according to their sexual orientation or religion or nationality," Kozak said. "Nothing will happen. As I have already said, adults have the right to behave how they think is necessary in their personal lives. They have the right to make propaganda about their sexual orientation among adults, but they should leave the kids alone."

In January, Putin said homosexuals should feel relaxed in Sochi, but also warned them to "leave our children alone."

On February 6, Kozak also appeared to warn athletes against addressing the gay "propaganda" issue, saying the Olympic Charter and Russian law forbid the spreading of political propaganda during a sporting event.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says "no kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites."

However, last week, IOC President Thomas Bach said it is permitted for athletes to "make a political statement" at Olympic press conferences.

Amid concerns about terrorism, Kozak said the government has worked with countries around the world to ensure the Sochi games are as safe as possible.

Kozak said the threat of terrorism is always present at big sporting events, in Russia or elsewhere. But he said security in Sochi is now equal to that of major cities in the United States and Britain.

"I would like to repeat once again that the level of the security in the city of Sochi is not worse than in New York, London, Washington, or Boston," he said.

Kozak’s comments came one day after the U.S. Homeland Security Department warned airlines flying to Russia that terrorists may try to smuggle onto airplanes explosives that have been hidden in tubes of toothpaste.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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