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Obama to meet Russian gay activists on G20 visit

US President Barack Obama speaks on August 31, 2013
US President Barack Obama will meet with Russian gay rights activists in the course of his visit to Russia, two groups invited to the meeting told AFP.

US President Barack Obama will meet with Russian gay rights activists in the course of his visit to Russia, two groups invited to the meeting told AFP Wednesday.

The US leader, who called for equal rights for gays on the eve of his trip to Saint-Petersburg for the G20 summit, will meet with activists on Friday evening, said Igor Kochetkov, an activist who has been invited to the meeting.

Kochetkov, who heads the group LGBT Network, told AFP that he plans to attend to speak about "rights violations based on sexual orientation" and call for international monitoring of such violations.

A representative of another Saint-Petersburg-based gay rights group Coming Out, Anna Anisimova, told AFP they have also received an invitation and will have someone attend.

A White House official said Wednesday that Obama will "meet with Russian civil society leaders to discuss the important role civil society plays in promoting human rights and tolerance".

Representatives of groups supporting LGBT rights, human rights, free media and the environment have been invited, he said.

Several prominent Russian rights campaigners in Moscow said however that they were invited but will be unable to attend because of constant changes in scheduling by the US delegation.

"We apologised and said we cannot come" because the meeting date was switched several times, making logistics difficult, veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax news agency.

A demonstrator brandishes a rainbow flag to protest repression of gays in Russia September 3, 2013
US President Barack Obama called for equal rights for gays on Wednesday, the eve of a visit to Russia where hotly disputed laws have been introduced cracking down on homosexuals.

Lev Ponomarev of For Human Rights organisation and Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance group said they will not be there for the same reason.

Speaking ahead of the Russian visit in Stockholm, Obama voiced support for equal rights for gays in statements widely seen as directed at Russia, where President Vladimir Putin recently signed a controversial "gay propaganda" law punishing people for dissemination information about homosexuality to minors.

"We share a belief in dignity and equality of every human being. That our daughters deserve the same opportunities as our sons. That our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law," Obama told reporters.

While meeting Russian activists, Obama is not holding a bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 after scrapping a much-anticipated state visit to Moscow over Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Putin has denied that the "gay propaganda" law is discriminatory, saying in an interview on Wednesday that Russia doesn't have "any laws pointed against persons with a non-traditional sexual orientation".

Russia has faced a barrage of criticism for the law, which is widely seen as anti-gay and has led to calls for boycott of the Winter Olympic Games it is hosting in the southern city of Sochi next February.

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