By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Published: May 28, 2007
Officers and Counterprotesters Disrupt Gay Rights Rally in Russia
MOSCOW, May 27 ? Police officers and riot troops quashed a gay rights rally in Moscow on Sunday, detaining organizers as well as at least two European lawmakers, while members of Orthodox Christian and nationalist groups badgered the demonstrators with insults, eggs and fists.
Barely had Nikolai A. Alekseyev, the event?s main organizer, appeared in front of City Hall when the police pushed him and several other demonstrators into a police bus.
Skirmishes between gay rights protesters and counterprotesters broke out across from City Hall along Tverskaya Street, Moscow?s main thoroughfare. The general disorder made it hard to determine the number of people actually participating in the demonstration. Mr. Alekseyev had predicted that 200 people would participate.
A man in camouflage clothing struck Peter Tatchell, a British gay rights campaigner, in the face as he tried to speak to the news media. Officers arrested the man who threw the punch and took Mr. Tatchell to a police van for his protection, a police spokesman said.
Later, Marco Cappato, a European Parliament member from Italy, traded blows with another man wearing camouflage as riot police officers looked on.
The police detained Mr. Cappato, along with Volker Beck, a member of the German Parliament, but later released them. It was unclear what happened to the man who had been fighting with Mr. Cappato.
In all, the police detained 31 people, though it was unclear how many of those would face charges, the police spokesman said. Speaking by phone from a detention center, Mr. Alekseyev said that he had been charged with disobeying police orders and that he would spend at least one night in jail.
Representatives from the nationalist and radical Orthodox groups arrived shortly before noon, when the rally was to begin. The attempted rally, skirmishes and arrests were over within an hour.
Sunday?s protest was the second effort by organizers to hold a gay pride demonstration in Moscow. A similar event last year ended in bloodshed when more than 100 ultranationalists and radical Orthodox Christians attacked gay rights demonstrators in Moscow.
As was the case for last year?s protest, organizers of this event had not won government approval to hold the rally. But organizers said protesters faced less violence this year.
Still, many protesters, some holding rainbow flags, others chanting slogans, faced antigay remarks from representatives of the radical Union of Orthodox Flag Bearers and a group calling itself the Black Hundreds.
A group of people surrounded one demonstrator shouting, ?Sodom will not stand!? Several protesters were hit by eggs.
In contrast with some Western European countries, there is little public acceptance of homosexuality in Russia, where prominent public officials have made disparaging remarks about homosexuals.
Representatives from gay rights groups, however, seemed undaunted by the violence and vowed to continue organizing demonstrations.
EDIT: live link removed
POSTED: 9:34 p.m. EDT, May 27, 2007
Moscow police detain gay activists
MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) – Russian police detained gay protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in central Moscow on Sunday while nationalists shouting "death to homosexuals" punched and kicked the demonstrators.
Riot police detained gay rights activists as they tried to present a petition asking Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called gay marches satanic acts, to lift a ban on the parade.
Nationalists and extreme Russian Orthodox believers held icons and denounced homosexuality as "evil" while a group of thick-set young men turned up with surgeon's masks, which they said would protect them from the "gay disease." (Watch angry opponents punch protesters Video)
"We are defending our rights," said a young gay man named Alexey, with blood pouring out of his nose after he was beaten up by a man screaming "homosexuals are perverts" opposite the mayor's office. His attacker was detained.
"This is terrible but I am not scared. This is a pretty scary place, a pretty scary country if you are gay. But we won't give up until they allow us our rights," he said.
Hundreds of riot police lined Tverskaya street in central Moscow and plain-clothes police mingled with a large number of foreign and Russian journalists.
Parade organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told Reuters by telephone from a police station that about 20 people had been detained, a figure confirmed by police.
"We are sitting in the police station right now. We were detained outside the mayor's office when we tried to present the petition," said Alexeyev.
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 but tolerance is not widespread.
"We believe these perverts should not be allowed to march on the streets of Moscow, the third Rome, a holy city for all Russians," said Igor Miroshnichenko, who said he was an Orthodox believer who had come to support the riot police.
"It (homosexuality) is satanic," he told Reuters. One man holding a crucifix threatened to beat-up any gay person he saw.
Richard Fairbrass, a gay singer with the British pop group Right Said Fred, was punched in the face and kicked by anti-gay activists while speaking to Reuters in an interview.
"We understand this is a gay event and so we came down here today," Fairbrass told Reuters before being hit. Blood dripped from his face after the attack.
Volker Beck, a German green party politician and gay rights campaigner, was hit in the face with eggs before being detained by riot police. "We didn't do anything," he told Reuters as he was led away.
Germany's Green Party Chairwoman Claudia Roth called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to raise the issue of rights with President Vladimir Putin at next month's G8 summit.
"It has been shown once again today that human rights are systematically abused in Putin's Russia," she said in a statement. Beck was later released.
"It is very conspicuous when people are arrested in front of the mayor's office when they were doing nothing other than trying to present a peaceful petition," said Scott Long, a rights activist with Human Rights Watch who observed the events.
"There was no real attempt to separate the two sides and that led to people being beaten up," he said. "I would call on the Russian authorities to protect freedom of assembly, protect freedom of expression and protect demonstrators."
EDIT: live link removed