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Gays welcome at Sochi, Putin says, but ‘leave children in peace’

Russian president insists there will be no discrimination at Olympics

With the Sochi Winter Olympics due to start in less than a month, Russian President Vladimir Putin is yet again issuing assurances that there will be no discrimination against gay people. Credit: Screen shot from RT

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that homosexuality is not a crime in the country and that gay people should feel "at ease" at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but they should "leave children in peace, please," the Moscow Times reports.

Putin made the remarks at Kranaya Polyana, an Olympic venue outside Sochi, the report says.  The president has repeatedly issued assurances that there will be no discrimination against gay people, who, he says, enjoy "the same rights and freedoms as everyone else."

In recent weeks, Russian authorities have released members of the Pussy Riot band, businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Greenpeace activists in what many observers see as a bid by Putin to offset ongoing criticism about the country's deteriorating civil liberties. Earlier this month, Putin also issued a less restrictive order than the one handed down last August governing demonstrations during the Winter Games.

But authorities must sign off on any public gatherings or protests before they can take place in designated areas, while the number of people allowed to participate in protests will be restricted.