Gay rights protests threaten Olympics games

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Gay rights activists across the world are holding a day of protests against the Russian government, just two days before the Winter Olympics begin in the southern resort of Sochi.

The protests seek to persuade sponsors of the event to speak out over Russia’s controversial laws on homosexuality.

The gay rights protests are expected in 19 cities around the globe.

The Olympic torch is set to arrive in Sochi, having visited 135 cities in the 122 days since leaving Moscow.

It will spend three days in and around Sochi before arriving in the Olympic stadium to light the Olympic cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony.

Activists joining protests planned in cities including Melbourne, London, New York, Paris and St Petersburg want Olympic sponsors such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Visa to speak against Russia’s new laws on homosexuality.

Last year, Russia banned the promotion of “non-traditional” sexuality – widely seen as an attack on gay rights.

The law makes providing information on homosexuality to under-18s a crime, punishable by a fine.

Critics say its loose interpretation effectively stops gay rights protests in Russia.

Marie Campbell, a director at the equality campaign group All Out, told the BBC that the new Russian laws went against the spirit of the Olympics.

“All our members, as well as everyone else around the world, want to celebrate the Olympic values of personal strength and endurance and integrity,” she said.

“All we are saying is that we can’t just ignore the fact that this is happening in Russia where these anti-gay laws are preventing the Olympic values being lived and enjoyed by millions of people.”

Last month, President Vladimir Putin said homosexuals would be welcome in Sochi for the Olympics but added: “Just leave the children in peace.”

Russian President, Vladimir Putin and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. 4 Feb 2014 President Putin has been welcoming members of the International Olympic Committee to Sochi

“We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” he said. “We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia.”

Meanwhile, President Putin has arrived in Sochi amid growing disquiet about whether preparations will be complete by Friday.

Hundreds of visitors arriving this week found that their hotels were unfinished.

The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Sochi says that while the venues themselves appear complete, the areas around them still resemble building sites.

Our correspondent says that what President Putin had hoped would be a showcase event is still proving to be a headache.

Addressing journalists in Sochi on Tuesday, he insisted that the enormous construction effort to prepare the city for the games had greatly improved the environment.

However, environmentalists have accused the Russian authorities of damaging the area during construction for the games.

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