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May 1 protests: gays not welcome in St Petersburg centre

Russian gay rights activists accused St Petersburg authorities of sidelining them from May 1 demonstrations on Saturday after they were told to protest in the middle of a forest.

Anarchists, communists and nationalists will gather along with members of the country’s ruling party in the centre of the former capital for the traditional day of protest on Sunday.

The gay lobby group Equal Rights said they were being discriminated against by officials who do not want them on St Peterburg’s main avenue.

Instead, they say the city council suggested they protest in a forest, near a cemetery.

“The authorities don’t want to see us on Nevsky Prospect in the middle of the city. It is clear it is because of their prejudice. It’s discriminatory,” Maria Efremenkova, a member of the organisation, told AFP.

Gays and lesbians, like many other groups, applied to the local authorities in order to protest in St Petersburg centre.

It was instead suggested they gather in Levashovo, north of the city, close to the memorial cemetery there.

The city council has argued that “several other residents, non governmental groups and political parties had already requested to march in the centre.”

“The authorities are mocking us by suggesting we protest there, where nobody else is around”, said Efremenkova, who added that the gay and lesbian community wanted to highlight discrimination in the workplace.

Demonstrations by gay and lesbian groups are regularly banned in Russia, notably in Moscow, where ex-mayor Yury Lujkov once described them as “the work of Satan.”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently rejected an appeal by Russia, standing by its October ruling which stated that the banning of such protests was discriminatory.