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LONDON (Reuters) - The mayor of Sochi, the Russian city hosting the Winter Olympics next month, said homosexuality was not accepted in his Caucasus region, but that gay visitors would be welcome at the Games if they respected Russian laws.
Russia's stance on gay rights, including laws introduced last year to ban the dissemination of "gay propaganda" among children, has drawn strong criticism from Western states and gay rights groups in the run-up to the Games, casting a shadow over President Vladimir Putin's $50-billion showpiece event.
In remarks to be broadcast on Monday, Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC's Panorama program: "We just say that it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city."
Putin has defended his country's laws, saying Russia was not "going after" gay people.
Pakhomov said gay people would be welcome at the Olympics, which begin on February 7. "Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and does not impose their habits on others," he said.
Sochi is home to a few gay clubs, but according to members of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the scene is on the decline.
Reporting by William James; Editing by Janet Lawrence