Gay people welcome at Sochi Olympics, says Russia's Putin
By Alexei Anishchuk
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin, seeking to defuse criticism over his treatment of Russia's gay community, said all people will be welcome in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Triggering angry criticism from the West and even calls to boycott the Sochi games, Russia adopted in June a ban on homosexual "propaganda" among minors, a law denounced by critics as discriminatory and aimed at stifling dissent.
"We are doing everything, both the organizers and our athletes and fans, so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation" Putin told Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on an inspection visit in Sochi on Monday.
The remark came unexpectedly from Putin, who says there is no discrimination against gays in Russia which decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.
But gay people are often blamed for not helping overcome Russia's demographic problems and face ostracism from the resurgent Orthodox Church, which has fostered increasingly close ties with the Kremlin during Putin's 13-year rule.
Bach made no public mention of the issue, offering praise for Russia's preparations for the Olympics.
Russia is spending more than $50 billion on the February Games, a top priority for Putin who wants to use it to showcase the country's modern face to the world two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. Continued...