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Moscow Police Break Up Planned March by Gay Rights Activists

Russian police prevented gay rights activists from marching in Moscow Saturday, and dozens of people, including the rally's main organizer, were arrested as Russian nationalists confronted the activists.

Police moved in when gay activists tried to approach a large park near the Kremlin, where they had planned to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But police closed the park entrance, and when the activists approached, they were confronted by Russian nationalists, who carried icons and threw lighted flares at them.

Scuffles broke out and police detained about 100 people, including the rally's main organizer, Nikolai Alexeyev. Some anti-gay protesters were among those detained.

Moscow city authorities had refused to give the gay activists permission to hold a parade to mark the day in 1993 that homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia. While that Soviet-era law may have been amended, homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness until 1999.

And anti-gay feelings still run deep in the country, especially among nationalists and religious groups.

Nationalists holding Orthodox icons used a megaphone to proclaim they would not allow "Sodom and Gomorra" in Moscow.

Moscow's gay community had wanted to hold a gay pride parade, similar to ones that are held in many cities around the world. They invited gay activists from across Europe to participate in the march and a series of events leading up to it.

But Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, reaffirmed the decision to prohibit any parades or rallies, saying people should not be allowed to publicly display what he called their "deviations."

Russian homosexuals say they suffer from overt discrimination and even violence, and there have been recent attacks on gays.

Some in Russia's gay community opposed the plan to march on Saturday, saying it would only make matters worse for them.

But other activists said it is time to demonstrate their determination to change what they see as another example of xenophobia and racism in Russia.