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Gay-Pride Event Banned In Odesa

People attend an antigay rally near the parliament in Kyiv in September 2013. A poll that year found that 80 percent of Ukrainians disapproved of homosexuality.
People attend an antigay rally near the parliament in Kyiv in September 2013. A poll that year found that 80 percent of Ukrainians disapproved of homosexuality.

An Odesa court has banned a gay-pride festival that was originally planned for this weekend in the Ukrainian port city, saying the event could lead to violence.

Two months after far-right activists attacked demonstrators at a small lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) march in Kyiv, there had been hopes among organizers and supporters of gay rights that the August 13-16 events would be protected under the city's new, fiercely pro-Western governor, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

But organizing committee head Anna Leonova says that appeals to officials over the event, which included plans for a march, had been met with silence. "I was at the regional administration and was told the official position: The regional administration will maintain neutrality," she said.

Saakashvili has not commented on the event. His press officer did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Odesa District Administrative Court issued its decision banning the event on August 13, citing a potential "real danger and threat to public order in the city, as well as to health and lives of participants and other citizens."

The court noted that soccer matches were being held in Odesa on August 14 and 16, raising the specter of attacks by hooligans.

Leonova said businesses that had been planning to host events or otherwise support the festival faced a campaign of threats and intimidation, with callers identifying themselves as police officers warning them they would face "problems" and "explosions" if they participated.

"We received phone calls from all of our landlords who were contracted to host panels, photo galleries, and recreational activities," she said. "They said they were under pressure throughout the night."

Ukraine has passed an antidiscrimination law, one of three legal changes needed to pave the way for a liberalized visa regime with Europe. But it first watered down the bill, removing proposed changes in labor legislation that gay-rights activists saw as crucial.

A 2013 poll found that 80 percent of Ukrainians disapproved of homosexuality.

And the issue of LGBT rights continues to divide activists instrumental in the Euromaidan protests that pushed President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014 and ushered in a pro-Western government.

Yevhen Rezvushkin, the head of Odesa's AutoMaidan movement, wrote on the group's website that hosting LGBT events in the city would be "improper" given the threat of violence.

"We met with the parade organizers and offered them alternatives -- hosting it on the grounds of an Odesa resort or just holding a press conference to prevent any clashes in the streets," he wrote, adding that the proposals had been rejected.

"It looks like they don't want their problems to be heard, but merely seek to provoke mass brawls in the city," Rezvushkin said -- a remark that seems to place blame for any violence that might have erupted at the festival on the victims rather than the perpetrators.

Serhiy Sternenko, a local leader of the far-right organization Right Sector, which was also instrumental in the Euromaidan protests, said his group would not attack demonstrators -- but warned that images of gay marchers would be used for Russian propaganda and any violence would be used by Ukrainian media to impugn the far right.

"The former will talk about Nazis and terrible European values, the latter about scoundrels...who don't let Ukraine receive a visa-free regime and integrate into the EU," he wrote on Facebook.

But organizers of the festival, Odesa Pride 2015, have mocked the claims. Responding to the cancelation, would-be participants in a Quest event, in which demonstrators would have explored the city in costumes, posted photos online holding signs saying #questterrorist.

In a statement posted to VKontakte, Odesa Pride 2015 said that despite the court's ruling the group would still attempt to host some events over the weekend.

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