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Pride protest
greets Moscow mayor in London

Pride protest
greets Moscow mayor in London

The mayors of the four largest European cities--Berlin, London, Moscow, and Paris--met at London City Hall Wednesday for their third meeting to discuss challenges facing their cities, amid controversy over Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov's vow to stop any attempt to hold gay pride parades in the Russian capital.

Last year Moscow authorities barred activists from holding a parade. When the march went ahead despite the ban, marchers were detained by police, abused by militant Christians, and attacked by neo-fascists.

The mayors have challenged Luzhkov to soften his views, to little avail. Recently, Luzhkov described pride events as "satanic." In response, the Moscow pride parade organizers sued him in Tverskoy district court.

"The Moscow mayor insulted me not only as a co-organizer of the gay pride parade he illegally banned, but also as a citizen and a believer," gay rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev said. "The term 'satanic' is insulting and negative both in the secular and religious meaning."

Peter Tatchell of the U.K. rights group Outrage! helped coordinate a protest outside London City Hall at 11 a.m. Wednesday, but the turnout was a little disappointing. For a few minutes, it was just Tatchell and Gay.com. "It is Wednesday, isn't it?" he asked at one point. Lashing rain, high wind, and delays on both the Jubilee and Central lines proved quite off-putting to potential gay anarchists. Eventually, the die-hards straggled in.

In part of a statement released Wednesday by the mayor's press office, Ken Livingstone said: "London welcomes the important contribution that lesbians and gay men make to our city and has drawn a clear line against hate crime. As mayor of London I condemn all acts of homophobic discrimination.

"I note that the Russian government has recently stated that blanket bans on gay pride marches are unacceptable--all citizens have the right to peaceful demonstration and it is the responsibility of the police to take reasonable steps to protect citizens from violence. This must be implemented in practice."

Alexeyev joined demonstrators outside City Hall before attending the news conference. He planned to lob a question at his Russian nemesis, but at that point was unsure what his question might be. Asked if he thought a pride event would occur in Moscow this year, Alexeyev told Gay.com: "We are going to do everything to make it happen. We are already getting the support from some of the Russian authorities. The official position of the Russian government in the Council of Europe is that the ban of gay pride is illegal."

How powerful is Luzhkov in regard to such events?

"He can ban the event because he is the one who is responsible for the authorization of the event. Though he cannot ban it according to Russian legislation, he can still do what he wants," Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev doesn't believe the protesters at last year's march are an accurate reflection of the Russian public.

"If you look at the opinion polls, about 30% of Russians are ready to accept that gays go on the streets to demonstrate," he said. "Most of the people were brought by the leaders of extremist organizations."

Alexeyev agrees that it difficult to be out in Russia. "It's very difficult to go out and march. You need to have courage and be a real activist. It is dangerous."

So how come Alexeyev overcame such fears and became such a bold spokesperson?

"It's hard to say; I think because I have the qualifications to change the lives of people for the better, in Russia," he said. "I started by writing books at the university on gay issues. I was sent off from the university because of that.

"The case is in the European Court for one year already. From this I understood that I would not change things in the country from just writing books. I understand that you have to be an activist and you have to be active in the political process to change the attitudes of people." (Stewart Who?, Gay.com/U.K.)

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