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Activists: Anti-gay sentiment rising in Ukraine; Elton John pleads for an end to the violence

BY MARIA DANILOVA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

KIEV, Ukraine -- Homophobic sentiment and violence against Ukraine's gay community are on the rise despite increasing efforts to promote tolerance in the conservative ex-Communist nation, advocacy groups said Wednesday.

The community was forced to cancel its first ever gay pride parade in the capital, Kiev, in May due to concerns activists would be physically attacked by radical groups. After the cancellation, two gay leaders were violently beaten.

Singer Elton John interrupted a charity concert in the center of Kiev last month and asked Ukrainians to end the violence.

"We all deserve a chance," John - the first person in Britain to take part in a gay marriage - told tens of thousands of cheering spectators on Kiev's main square. "I plead with you Ukraine: stop the violence against gay people."

Svyatoslav Sheremet, who leads Ukraine's Gay Forum, said the community had decided to hold Ukraine's first gay pride event believing that gays and lesbians were finally ready to be greeted by society. For every one gay Ukrainian who is out, he said, another 80 are forced to hide their sexuality.

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