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Ukraine's first gay march held under police protection

The shadow of a gay rights activist is seen behind a flag as she takes part in a march across Kiev May 25, 2013. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
The shadow of a gay rights activist is seen behind a flag as she takes part in a march across Kiev May 25, 2013. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

KIEV (Reuters) - About 100 Ukrainian gay rights activists held the country's first gay rally on Saturday, helped by police who arrested 13 people for trying to break up the march.

The activists walked for about 250 meters (yards) along Victory Avenue in the capital Kiev while Orthodox Christian activists nearby chanted slogans denouncing them.

"Ukraine is not America. Kiev is not Sodom,' shouted one anti-gay demonstrator over a loudspeaker.

A church activist broke through the police cordon briefly and slapped down banners calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals before he was seized by police.

There is little public acceptance of homosexuality in predominantly Orthodox Ukraine, as in other former Soviet republics. On May 17, large crowds of protesters broke up gay rights rallies in Georgia and Russia.

The march in Kiev lasted only 40 minutes but was a small victory for the former Soviet republic's gay community.

A year ago, gay activists canceled plans for a rally in Kiev, saying they had received threats of violence. One would-be organizer was beaten up by a group of men the same day.

Organizers hailed the march on Saturday as a breakthrough.

"This event will go down in the history of Ukraine as one of the key developments in the fight for equal human rights," said Olena Semenova, one of the organizers, expressing gratitude to the police and the authorities for their action.

The rally almost came to nothing when city authorities raised security concerns and a court issued an order to ban it.

But on Saturday police offered protection to the small march, held away from the city center.

Church activist Ioksana Keresten, who protested against the rally, said: "We are trying to protect family values. We want to protect our children from homosexual propaganda. This parade popularizes homosexuality. It can influence our children for their whole life."

At the end of the rally, the gay activists stepped into the grounds of a local film studio and climbed onto buses that drove them away, avoiding the risk of further confrontation.

Ukraine's parliament last year shelved the second reading of a bill that would have criminalized the "promotion of homosexuality". But it has also delayed passing legislation to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace.

(Additional reporting by Mykhailo Yelchev of Reuters television and Gleb Garanich of Reuters pictures; writing By Richard Balmforth; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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