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Russian Gays Protest Against Moscow Mayor

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Moscow police have dispersed a gay rally and detained several protesters in the Russian capital.  The demonstrators had been protesting the policies of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called homosexuals "satanic" and stopped attempts to hold a gay pride rally in the city.  

Busloads of riot police, phalanxes of policewomen in bullet proof vests, and German shepherds tugging at their leashes greeted a small gathering of gay activists outside Moscow's City Hall to demand the resignation of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

Police officers strong armed the activists into waiting prison buses.  Policemen with bullhorns urged journalists to move along.

At first glance, it would seem to be business as usual in Moscow, a city that has been run with a heavy hand by Yury Luzhkov since the fall of communism two decades ago.

Across the street, at the ornate pre-revolutionary City Hall building, the lights were on.  But Mayor Luzhkov was in Austria marking his 74th birthday - and, by all accounts, mulling over the Kremlin's advice to think about his future options.

The media here are portraying Mayor Luzhkov as losing his grip on power.  NTV, a Kremlin-controlled station, lambasted Luzhkov's wife, Moscow construction magnate Yelena Baturina.

Baturina shot back in an interview with New Times magazine, claiming that "all of this is done for one person only - the president."

She said she was mystified by the silence of Prime Minister Putin, ostensibly her ally.  She complained: "I do not understand why both leaders pretend nothing is happening when the country is going nuts."

But on Monday, TV Center, a channel controlled by the City Hall, abruptly pulled a pro-Luzhkov TV documentary that was scheduled to air.  According to promotions for the program, the documentary was to reveal the so-called "truth" behind accusations against the mayor by  "shadowy figures" within President Medvedev's Kremlin.

With the media entrenched in covering the city's political drama, dozens of cameras and microphones focused on the city's small gay rights group, the only group that has dared this week to schedule a protest against the mayor.

Nikolai Alekseyev, a gay rights activist, criticized Mayor Luzhkov for banning gay pride parades, and using slurs in public against gays.

"Everyone should understand that this person should leave as fast as possible," said Nikolai Alekseyev. "There should be another mayor who will bring new blood to this city, who will change this city to make it a truly European city."

He added:

"He said we are satanic people, that we are responsible for the HIV epidemic in the city," said Alekseyev. "He said that we are weapons of mass destruction of the West, and that we are immoral and all the possible things, all the nasty thing about gay people.  Even though he was very easily and without any problems shaking the hands of homosexuals mayors of European cities  - including the Mayor of Paris, the Mayor of Berlin."

Legally, Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has to guarantee the freedom of expression and assembly.  Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but in the streets the reality is clearly very different as intolerance remains widespread.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

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