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Gay Russian Protester Detained at Olympic Relay

Saturday Jan 18, 2014
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Security personnel detain Pavel Lebedev, a gay protester, during the Olympic torch relay in the city of Voronezh, 534 km (334 miles) south of Moscow.
Security personnel detain Pavel Lebedev, a gay protester, during the Olympic torch relay in the city of Voronezh, 534 km (334 miles) south of Moscow.  (Source:AP Photo/Andrei Nasonov)

A gay Russian protester was detained on Saturday for unfurling a rainbow flag during the Olympic torch relay as it passed through his hometown of Voronezh, 560 miles (910 kilometers) north of Sochi, where the games will begin Feb. 7.

Photos uploaded by his friends show Pavel Lebedev pulling out the flag and then being detained by Olympic security personnel, who wrestle him to the snow as they wait for police to arrive. Lebedev, reached by The Associated Press on the phone, said he was still in the police station and undergoing questioning.

"Hosting the games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance," Lebedev said, citing growing homophobia in Russia as the main reason for his protest.

A ban on propaganda of "nontraditional sexual relations" that was signed by President Vladimir Putin into law in June has provoked widespread international outrage from critics who believe the legislation discriminates against gays.

In the wake of that backlash, Russian authorities have put limits on the right to protest during the Sochi Olympics, which will run until Feb. 23. A presidential decree initially banned all rallies in Sochi from Jan. 7 to March 21, but Putin later rescinded the ban to allow demonstrations at venues determined by the Interior Ministry.

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