Dozens of Russian gay rights activists detained, attacked at rally in Moscow

Gay rights campaigners and their opponents clashed at an unsanctioned rally in Moscow but a heavy police presence in Ukraine kept the two sides apart at a demonstration which went ahead despite a court order.

Russian police said they arrested at least 30 gay rights campaigners and Christian Orthodox vigilantes in Moscow.

The campaigners tried to unfurl banners denouncing the Kremlin-backed homophobic legislation in front of Russia's lower house of parliament, but were attacked by vigilantes carrying icons and crosses.

The lower house voted in January for a bill that makes public events and dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000.

The bill, still awaiting final approval, is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains strong in the country. Government critics and gay rights activists claim that the Kremlin and the powerful Orthodox Church encourage vigilante groups to attack gay rallies and parades.

In Kiev, between 50 and 100 gay rights activists staged the ex-Soviet nation's first-ever gay pride parade. They held banners reading "Homosexuality is no disease" and "Human rights are my pride."

Although city authorities won a court order banning the rally on Thursday, saying it would disturb the annual Kiev Day celebrations, but the Ukrainian activists were not deterred. Authorities deployed hundreds of riot policemen to prevent any attacks by opponents.

There was no official explanation about why the demonstration was allowed to go ahead.

Last year, Ukraine's gay and lesbian community canceled the event at the last minute when skinheads gathered at the planned location, intent on beating up the participants. Two leading activists were brutally beaten by radicals in subsequent weeks.

Despite condemnation from the West, the Ukrainian parliament is debating several anti-gay bills including one which would make any public, positive depiction of homosexuality punishable by up to five years in prison.