Plans to stage Russia's first gay pride parade have been vetoed by Moscow's city government on the grounds that the idea has caused "outrage" in society.
Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's administration said yesterday it would not even consider an application for a parade, prompting Russia's gay community to threaten legal action in the European Court of Human Rights.
Gay and lesbian activists have been campaigning for permission to stage the country's first gay pride event on Saturday 27 May.
The date marks the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia in 1993. But the plans have drawn a furious reaction from religious leaders and been condemned as "suicidal" by other gay activists .
Earlier this week Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin warned that Russia's Muslims would stage violent protests if the march went ahead. "If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged. Any normal person would do that - Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike ... [The protests] might be even more intense than protests abroad against those controversial cartoons."
The cleric said the Koran taught that homosexuals should be killed because their lifestyle spells the extinction of the human race and said that gays had no human rights.
The Russian Orthodox Church has called it "the propaganda of sin". Bishop Daniil of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk yesterday condemned the plans as a "cynical mockery" and likened homosexuality to leprosy.
The mayor's spokesman, Sergei Tsoi, said a parade would not be allowed. "[The plans] have caused outrage in society, particularly among religious leaders," he said.
In the Communist era Russian homosexuals were jailed for five years and their "condition" was classed as a mental disorder. In post-Soviet Russia public acceptance of homosexuality has been glacial. An opinion poll last year showed 43 per cent of Russians believed gay men should be incarcerated.
Nikolai Alekseev, head of GayRussia.Ru and one of the parade organisers, said banning such meetings was a criminal offence. He said the organisers were considering going to the European Court of Human Rights. Preparations will continue and an official application will be made in May.