President Putin on Friday defended Russia's controversial law banning gay "propaganda," saying that the measure was designed to protect children, not to target homosexuals.
"We aren't banning anything, we aren't rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries," Putin said during a trip to Sochi on Friday, responding to a question posed by an Olympics volunteer there. "One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children alone."
The law, which bans the promotion of homosexuality among minors, has sparked controversy among human rights groups both in Russia and abroad in the run up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although some rights groups have called for demonstrations, the Kremlin has imposed limitations on the right to protest during the games.
Initially, Putin issued a presidential decree banning all protests in Sochi from January through March, but he later reformulated the measure to allow demonstrations at venues chosen by the Interior Ministry.
Some gay rights advocates have called for Western countries such as the UK and US to boycott the Winter Olympics in response to the law. Although a boycott has not gained traction, neither US President Barack Obama, the vice president nor the first lady will attend the opening ceremony in Sochi. Instead, the American delegation will include three openly gay athletes.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron also will not attend the games. London has said it would send its minister responsible for the country's same-sex marriage laws to Sochi.
slk/jm (AP, Reuters)