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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gay March Overwhelmed by Violent Protests

APUltranationalists protesting the march, which drew about 100 activists, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Activists attempting to hold the city's first-ever gay rights march Saturday were overwhelmed by militant Orthodox Christians and ultranationalists throwing smoke bombs.

A handful of activists were injured, including a German lawmaker. The Bundestag member, his face streaked with blood, was detained by police.

Pedestrian movement was blocked for a few hours as riot police cordoned off the square around the monument to Prince Yury Dolgoruky. And traffic on Tverskaya Ulitsa was briefly stopped when smoke bombs -- resembling flares and emitting large plumes of smoke -- were thrown at the intersection at the base of the street, across from the Kremlin.

More than 100 gay rights activists and some of their most vocal foes were arrested by police. Mayor Yury Luzhkov had banned the parade, and on Friday a city court upheld the ban.

Among the first to be arrested were Nikolai Alexeyev, the march's chief organizer, and Philippe Lasnier, an aide to the mayor of Paris. Alexeyev spent the day in custody; Lasnier was briefly detained.

Alexeyev said Sunday that the event had been a great success, despite the low turnout. "A hundred people were not afraid to go out and protest homophobia and fascism," he said.

One French observer at Saturday's event said police had detained the German lawmaker, Green Party member Volker Beck, to prevent him from being further pummeled.

Several hundred ultranationalists descended on central Moscow to protest the march. Some of them wore camouflage. Others sported facemasks or hid their faces in their shirt collars.

Organizers had hoped the parade would be the capstone of a two-day conference bringing together gays and lesbians from Russia, Europe and the United States.

The conference, called Moscow Pride '06, was described as disorganized by gay web sites not affiliated with the event, which included a lecture given by Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde. The British author, widely known to have been gay, was convicted of gross indecency in 1895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

Organizers of Saturday's march had called for gays and lesbians to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then walk up Tverskaya and gather at the monument to Prince Yury Dolgoruky, which faces City Hall, to picket the ban. The time and place of the march were announced just hours before the event.

But police blocked the entrance to the Alexander Gardens, where the tomb is located.

When the marchers arrived at the gated entranceway to the garden, they were met by women holding icons and wearing long skirts and headscarves. A small group of men in Cossack dress was on hand to protest the march, among others.

Sergey Ponomarev / AP

A police officer escorting Alexeyev from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

As the activists laid their flowers at the gate, protesters stomped on them and threw eggs and tomatoes at the activists. And as the protesters' chants -- "Death to fags!" and "Fags out of Russia!" -- grew louder, and as the tenor of the confrontation grew uglier, OMON riot police formed a chain to pry the crowd away from the gate.

The icon-bearing women added to the chorus, chanting "Moscow is not Sodom." Many sang psalms, mostly from the traditional Easter service.

One woman protesting the march accused police officers who were attempting to contain the mob of siding with homosexuals, prompting one officer to point to the cross around his neck.

Conference participants, most of them foreigners, observed the goings-on with concern and confusion. A couple stood under rainbow-colored umbrellas. The six-color rainbow is an international gay and lesbian symbol that apparently was not recognized by protesters, who did not attack people holding the umbrellas.

After the confrontation at the entrance to the Alexander Gardens, some parade organizers began moving up Tverskaya toward the monument. The parade's protesters walked in that direction, too.

The steps of the monument had been occupied by a large swarm of ultranationalists, including Alexander Belov, head of the Movement Against Illegal Immigrants, and Konstantin Krylov, head of the Russian Public Movement.

State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich, of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, in a speech at the foot of the monument lashed out at the "gay mafia" for promoting ideals he called suited for "rotting America and dying Europe."

Kuryanovich also recalled that homosexuality was once a crime in Russia and defended the neo-Nazi salute. He then led the crowd in a chant of "Gays and lesbians to Kolyma," the notorious Soviet-era labor camp.

Riot police tried to block more people from gathering near the monument but did not make an attempt to interrupt Kuryanovich's speech.

Kuryanovich's web site offers condolences to the family and friends of Dmitry Borovikov, a founder of a violent extremist group killed by police in St. Petersburg earlier this month while resisting arrest.

A few gay rights activists eventually arrived at the monument but were unable to hold their rally.

Yevgenia Debryanskaya, a leader of the lesbian rights movement in Russia since the 1990s, tried to give a speech but was doused with water as protesters laughed at her. She was dragged away by police.

Alexeyev said participation would have been greater if the event had been permitted by authorities.

Organizers did not want to put a large number of people at risk by inviting them to take part, he said, so no notices were posted on gay-themed web sites and no mass mailings were conducted.

Beck, the German legislator, said he had hoped his presence and that of European Parliament member Sophie int Veld would force authorities to provide participants with protection.

On Friday, the Council of Europe issued a statement telling gay rights activists in Moscow that the council supported their struggle against homophobia and calling on local authorities to protect marchers.

Other gay rights activists present Saturday included Eduard Murzin, a deputy in Bashkortostan's regional legislature who tried unsuccessfully to register a gay marriage last year, and Paris Vice Mayor Clementine Autain. Murzin is straight.

A number of activists had opposed the parade and labeled Alexeyev a self-promoter who sought to use the event to build his own reputation at home and abroad.