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Moscow police violently break up gay pride rally

By DAVID NOWAK, Associated Press

Russia Gay Rights XAZ112 MOSCOW -- Moscow police violently broke up gay rights demonstrations Saturday, detaining more than 20 protesters who denounced what they called Russian homophobia hours before the finals of a major international pop music competition.

About 30 activists gathered near a university in southwestern Moscow to protest discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The group, which included British gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell, waved flags and chanted slogans, including: "Homophobia is a disgrace of this country!" and "We are demanding equal rights!"

About a minute after the protest began, riot police charged into the group and began to grab demonstrators, dragging them to waiting buses. Tatchell was talking with reporters when police hauled him away.

"This shows the Russian people are not free," he said.

Moscow is hosting the Eurovision song contest finals later Saturday. Europe's most prestigious pop music contest has drawn attention to gay rights in Russia, with some singers threatening to boycott the event if the gay pride parade was not allowed to happen.

Russian gay rights movement leader Nikolai Alexeyev was among those detained Saturday.

After the protest was over, riot police seized other gay activists who started to speak with reporters. Police ripped the shirt and bra off one woman, who identified herself as Ksenia Prilebskaya, and roughly pushed her into a police bus.

Eduard Murdin, 40, a human rights activist from the Russian city of Ufa, was flanked by two officers who pinned his arms behind him and marched him, head bent over, to a waiting bus. "All we wanted was a legal protest," he said as he was led away. "But we were blocked. What else could we do?"

"Freedom of expression for homosexuals," shouted Nikolai Bayev, 34, a gay rights activist from Moscow, as police took him away. Among those detained was Andy Thayer of Chicago, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network.

Police detained about six other gay rights activists at a separate demonstration across town and several anti-gay protesters rallying nearby.

City authorities had barred Saturday's rally saying it was morally wrong. Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov has described homosexuality as "satanic."

Luzhkov's spokesman Sergei Tsoi was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying Saturday that gay pride events "not only destroy moral foundations of our society, but also purposefully provoke disturbances that will threaten the lives and safety of Moscow residents and guests."

At an earlier rally close to the center of Moscow, about 50 demonstrators from nationalist and Orthodox Christian organizations denounced homosexuality. One man was detained when he accused officials in the Kremlin of being gay.

Associated Press writer Peter Leonard contributed to this report.

Caption: A Finnish Gay Rights protester is taken away by riot police officers in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 16, 2009. Moscow police have violently dispersed a gay pride parade banned by the authorities. Riot police broke up a protest by around 20 gay pride activists, dragging them into detention buses. Activists called Russia's alleged homophobia "a disgrace." (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

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