Gay rights activists protest Russia law

MADRID (AFP) - About 300 gay rights activists rallied in Madrid on Tuesday as part of an international protest against hotly disputed Russian laws cracking down on homosexuals.

Protesters waved signs that read "Love Always Wins" over a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin or "Speak Out For Russia" against a silhouette of the Kremlin as they rallied in front of the foreign ministry in the historic heart of Madrid.

"Going against sexual orientation, just as opposing someone's race or beliefs, is an attack on basic civil rights," said Juli Burdeos, 30, who helped hold up a large banner with a picture of Putin holding a gun that read: "Homophobic President".

Gay rights group All Out called for the protests in 33 cities across Europe and the Americas before St. Petersburg hosts world leaders in a G20 summit from Thursday.

Activists want the G-20 leaders to pressure Putin to repeal a law he signed in June banning the promotion or display of homosexuality in front of minors.

"Putin is breaking the law. The anti-gay laws violate Russia's own constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Declaration on Human Rights. People from around the world and their leaders are obligated to demand accountability," All Out co-founder Andre Banks said.

"If we allow Putin to undermine basic freedoms for gay and lesbian Russians, we accept the destruction of these freedoms for all Russians, gay and straight," he said in a statement.

Rights groups argue that the vaguely worded legislation is discriminatory, prompting some calls to boycott the Winter Olympics, which are due to be held in Sochi from Feb 7-23, 2014.

Under the new Russian law, foreigners risk a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (about S$3,815), up to 15 days in jail, and expulsion from the country.

Outrage over the law in the West has been fuelled by a series of graphic videos posted online by a Russian vigilante group of attacks against gay youths in Russia carried out by its members.

The images depicting gay youths being doused with urine, threatened with axes and beaten with clubs have pushed gay rights in Russia to the top of the political agenda of gay rights groups in Europe and North America.

Several protesters at the rally in Madrid held up posters with images taken from the videos and slogans condemning the attacks, which activists say are being encouraged by the anti-gay law.

"We want these attacks and persecutions to stop. The number of attacks has multiplied since Russia passed its law and they are taking place without any impunity," Boti Rodrigo, the head of Spain's National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals, said in her address to the rally in Madrid.

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