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    Putin signals support for Luzhkov's gay parade ban-1

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    MOSCOW, February 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president, asked Thursday about the Moscow mayor's controversial branding of gay parades as 'Satanic', avoided a direct answer, but signaled his support for Yury Luzhkov.

    Vladimir Putin told a Kremlin news conference he respects human freedoms, but joked that issue of sexual minorities is linked to the demographic problem in the country.

    Last year, Putin highlighted the demographic crisis afflicting Russia in his May state of the nation address, proposing radical new measures to deal with the falling birthrate and a population decline of some 700,000 a year.

    On December 31, 2006, he signed into law additional measures in support of families with children, by which they will receive 250,000 rubles (some $9,400) for the birth of every additional child after the first.

    "I link this issue to the performance of my duties and one of the main problems in the country - demography," Putin told a news conference in the Kremlin, in reply to a question on whether he agreed with Mayor Luzhkov that gay parades are "Satanic."

    The conservative 70-year-old mayor, who has been in office since 1992, had said on Monday he would never allow a gay parade to take place in Moscow despite pressure from the West.

    Luzhkov said, "Last year, Moscow came under unprecedented pressure to sanction the gay parade, which can be described in no other way than as Satanic. We did not let the parade take place then, and we are not going to allow it in the future."

    This is the second time Moscow authorities have banned a gay parade in Moscow. On May 26, 2006, a Moscow district court upheld a Moscow government resolution prohibiting a gay march, which was scheduled for the next day, as opposition to the planned event was strong in Russia, especially from the Russian Orthodox Church and other religious leaders.

    Despite the ban, about 200 people took to the streets May 27 in an unsanctioned demonstration to mark the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia.

    The attempt resulted in violent clashes between sexual minorities and their opponents - representatives of a number of political parties, religious and radical movements - and the detention of some 120 people from both sides, most of whom were later released.

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