Strict policing, no arrests at Moscow gay parades

by Jim Heintz

Associated Press

Saturday May 29, 2010

Two Gay Pride parades were held without arrests in Moscow on Saturday, the first time the notoriously intolerant Russian authorities have not intervened since the inaugural attempt to hold the event in the capital in 2006.

The activists' spokesman claimed that the absence of harrasment, beatings and detentions was due to their "military planning" rather than any kind of warming toward non-traditional orientation among officials.

Moscow riot police typically disperse such gatherings with brute force, emboldened by declarations from city Mayor Yury Luzhkov equating homosexuals with the devil.

The activists also blame Russia's resurgent Orthodox Church, which publicly and sternly denounces gay culture, for fomenting homophobia.

About 25 activists held a short demonstration on The Arbat, a pedestrian street lined with shops and cafes that is one of Moscow's main tourist draws.

They marched for about 10 minutes, holding banners and shouting slogans such as "No discrimination on the grounds of orientation." Some observers waved and laughed, and there were no signs of hostility.

Police did not try to disperse the march, but when the demonstrators saw a line of uniformed officers blocking the street ahead of them, they scattered.

A few hours later in northwestern Moscow a smaller, international group including British activist Peter Tatchell unveiled a long rainbow flag and chanted "Russia without homophobes!" and "Equal rights, no compromise!"

"Today it's like the Soviet era in Russia: Those who seek to hold a peaceful protest are being hunted by the police and the FSB security, like we were some kind of criminals or terrorists." Tatchell, a member of the U.K. rights group OutRage, told Associated Press Television News.

The last gay parade was in May and coincided with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. That ended with dozens of arrests. Foreign politicians and pop stars as well as dozens of Russians have been roughed up by police and attacked for participating in the protests.

Asked whether he felt a thaw in official attitudes toward gays, parade organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told The AP after the protests Saturday that there had been no change, and no detentions had been made because the activists had simply given the cops the slip.

"Our military planning was why there were no arrests. We had to organize these parades under strict secrecy, we turned away anyone we didn't know," he said, claiming the authorities were attempting to infiltrate the organizers.


Associated Press writer David Nowak contributed to this report.

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