Dozens arrested in violence at Moscow gay rally
Moscow police Saturday detained three prominent global gay rights leaders as violence broke out at an unprecedented rally that activists tried to stage near the Kremlin wall.
The protesters -- waving rainbow flags and some carrying signs reading "Russia is not Iran" -- were attacked during the unsanctioned rally by members of an ultra-Orthodox group who had gathered near the Kremlin in anticipation.
An AFP correspondent saw the police then move in and violently wrestle both activists and members of the religious group to the ground before leading them off in handcuffs to waiting security vans.
Those detained included the prominent US gay rights activist Dan Choi as well as Britain's Peter Tatchell and France's Louis-George Tin.
"We have come here to prevent this event from happening," Orthodox group member Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich said as scuffles raged around him.
"God burned down Sodom and Gomorrah and he will burn down Moscow too if we let things like this happen," he told AFP.
Members of the religious group wore black robes and brandished Christian Orthodox cross. An AFP correspondent saw one man rip up a picture of Elton John -- the openly gay icon of the global gay and lesbian community.
The small group of rights activists were mostly composed of young people who chanted "Russia without homophobia" and wore shirts with signs such as "I love her".
Police had cordoned off the area in advance to thwart activists' plans to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Moscow -- whose former mayor Yury Luzhkov once likened gays to the devil -- has banned gay pride parades for six years running citing public discomfort with behaviour that was considered illegal in Soviet times.
The European Court of Human Rights in October ordered Russia to pay one local rights leader damages for banning earlier marches.
But Moscow activists said what they most feared were not the arrests but attacks from Russian nationalists who have already vowed to disrupt the event.
"What we are really afraid of are the homophobes and the neo-Nazis who have been promising to come down to beat us up," activist Nikolai Bayev told AFP by telephone.
"But instead of arresting the groups threatening to create violence, the police are promising to arrest us."
Some 120 Russian activists were arrested during their first attempt to stage a Moscow parade in 2006 and the city warned in advance that those who showed up at the Kremlin would get no leniency on this occasion.
A Moscow police spokesman said officers would be out on the streets in large numbers because the rally coincided with a national holiday commemorating Russia's border guards -- an occasion that has seen drunken violence in the past.
Gay rights activists were planning to hold a second event outside the Moscow mayor's office later Saturday afternoon.
"Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are universal," Tatchell told reporters before his arrest.
His fellow international marchers argued that their arrest would only prove a point about the state of freedoms in Russia.
"Our methods are nonviolent," Choi said. "My hope is that this will be the last pride prohibited by this country."
© 2011 AFP