MOSCOW: Riot police on Saturday arrested two women as a small group of gay rights activists tried to stage a rally in central Moscow dedicated to Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian transvestite who won this year's Eurovision song contest.
Officers chased away the handful of other activists who gathered for the unsanctioned rally, held in a central Moscow square and symbolically named after the Eurovision winner.
The two women were holding a rainbow flag when they were arrested shortly after a Lada car adorned with rainbow flags raced along a nearby street with Wurst's signature song, "Rise Like A Phoenix," blaring out at full volume.
Russian authorities have for years banned gay pride events, and have introduced harsh legislation banning the dissemination of gay "propaganda" to minors.
President Vladimir Putin has made traditional family values and patriotism a key plank of his third term's agenda, but has denied that gays are mistreated.
Dana Frieder, who describes herself as a transsexual, said living in Russia was not easy.
"We are not afraid of police, we are afraid of homophobic people, we hope they don't come here," she told AFP before the rally was dispersed.
Frieder said the activists wanted to draw attention to the rights of gays and transsexuals and were not seeking to "make anyone change their sexual orientation".
Another participant, Alexey Bocharov, said he turned up to defend Russians' freedom to choose how to live and love.
"We are quiet and the government benefits from our lethargy," said Bocharov, who is not gay.
Wurst's victory earlier this month prompted an outpouring of anti-gay sentiment among Russian officials and some celebrities.
However, others pointed out that many Russians voted for Wurst in the contest.