Putin signals gay rights debate must not cloud Games

Fri Feb 7, 2014 9:38am EST
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By Alexei Anishchuk

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin made clear on Friday that he believed the Sochi Winter Olympics were not the place to debate Russia's treatment of gays.

Putin used a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country has criticized Russia on gay rights, to underline the message that politics and sport should not be mixed.

"I know you always give much attention to humanitarian issues and adherence to human rights," Putin told Rutte in Sochi, shortly before the Games opening ceremony. "We are always open to discussion."

But the Russian leader added that he had seen a television report in which he said a man in a gay club in the Black Sea resort told journalists: "Leave us alone. Sport is sport. The Olympics are the Olympics. Let's focus."

"The less aggression there is over (gay rights) from both sides, the better," he quoted the person as saying.

"I second the assessment that this person made in every way," Putin said.

The Sochi Games are vital to Putin's legacy and he has staked his personal and political reputation on their success, but he faces an outcry abroad over a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors.

Putin says the law is needed to defend young people. Critics say it curtails the rights of homosexuals, and gay rights activists say it is fuelling anti-gay violence in Russia.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Gala Dinner at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Andrej Isakovic/Pool