Olympics: Sochi mayor says gays welcome if they obey law

LONDON (AFP) - The mayor of Sochi, the host city of the Winter Olympics, said in a BBC TV programme on Monday that gay people are welcome to attend the Games if they "respect the rules of the Russian Federation".

Mr Anatoly Pakhomov told Panoroma there were no gay people in the city, before admitting: "I am not sure, but I don't bloody know them."

Mr Pakhomov said gay people would be welcome at the Games: "Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and doesn't impose their habits on others."

When asked whether gay people have to hide their sexuality in Sochi, the mayor said: "No, we just say that it is your business, it's your life.

"But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city."

The BBC programme visited a gay bar in Sochi, located in a quiet alley without a sign or name above the door.

A drag queen at the bar, Miss Zhu-Zha, said: "In some places there's serious prejudice against gay people. In other places it's not as bad."

Russia's anti-gay legislation has drawn severe criticism from international leaders, athletes and rights activists ahead of the Games, which begin on Feb 7.

In the latest protest, 27 Nobel laureates wrote an open letter to President Vladimir Putin condemning the law he signed in June last year that punishes the "propaganda" of homosexuality to minors with fines or even imprisonment.

Mr Putin himself said this month that gay people could feel "relaxed" about attending the Sochi Olympics but said they should "leave children alone please".