Violence mars an effort to appeal Moscow

Houston Chronicle

MOSCOW - Police detained gay rights activists, among them European lawmakers, as they tried to present a letter to Moscow's mayor Sunday in a demonstration that also attracted a hostile crowd of people who punched and threw eggs at the activists.

The letter, signed by some 40 European lawmakers, appealed the city's ban on a march that would have taken place Sunday to mark the 14th anniversary of Russia decriminalizing homosexuality.

Police quickly grabbed about a dozen demonstrators and forced them into a bus, including the Russian gay rights movement leader Nikolai Alexeyev. Police then hustled away others, including German parliament member Volker Beck, as opponents threw eggs and shouted: "Moscow is not Sodom!"

Marco Cappato, a European Parliament deputy from Italy, was kicked by one opponent as he spoke to journalists. Cappato began shouting: "Where are the police? Why don't you protect us?" and officers hauled him away as he struggled.

The gay rights activists appeared to number fewer than 100, while roughly that many police were present.

Cappato later told Italy's Sky TG24 that he had been released. He said that when he saw that Ottavio Marzocchi, an official with the Liberal Democrats in the European parliament, had come under attack, he began shouting and "within five seconds I was taken away by police in anti-riot gear."

A total of 31 people were detained and most were later released, Moscow police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said.

But Beck, who was later released, said police beat him and the others and seized their passports. Beck also denied the group was holding a demonstration.

The Interfax news agency quoted a Moscow city spokesman, Mikhail Solomentsev, as praising the "cooordinated and polite actions of the police."

Photos: 1. HELD: Riot police officers detain a demonstrator as gay rights activists try to hold a protest in Moscow on Sunday.; 2. ANGER: A Russian ultranationalist gets set to attack British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell during a gathering in Moscow on Sunday.