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Arrests at Moscow gay parade ahead of Eurovision Song Contest

  • Story Highlights
  • News agency: Police barricade park where demonstrators due to meet
  • Arrests come ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, being held in Moscow Saturday
  • Most famous winners of the contest were ABBA, who came to attention in 1974
  • Contest is traditionally taken more seriously in eastern Europe
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Dozens of gay and lesbian rights activists planning a parade in southwestern Moscow Saturday have been detained, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

The Ukrainian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest performs during dress rehearsals in Moscow Friday.

Gay and lesbian rights activists are detained in Moscow Saturday ahead of a planned march.

The arrests included Nikolai Alexeyev, a prominent gay activist in Russia, and his associate Nikolai Bayev, Interfax said, adding that more people trickling into the location were being arrested without explanation.

Officials of Moscow's gay community had announced earlier plans to rally at Novopushkinsky Park in central Moscow, Interfax said.

The arrests came ahead of Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest, which is being held in Moscow. The contest has a strong following among the gay and lesbian community. Video Watch police break up the march »

Journalists from various countries gathered at the scene, as police barricaded the park with metal bars. Trucks with soldiers onboard were parked on nearby streets, Interfax said.

UK gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, in a statement on his Web site ahead of the march, said it was being held to coincide with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

"This parade is in defense of human rights. We are defending the often violated human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians. They want legal protection against discrimination and hate crimes. I support their cause.

"Not all Russians are homophobic, but many are. Gay Russians suffer queer-bashing attacks, blackmail, verbal abuse and discrimination in education, housing and employment. This shames the great Russian nation."

The Eurovision Song Contest, which began in 1956, sees singers and groups from a short list of European nations perform a specially written song before telephone votes from each nation decide the winner.

In western Europe, the contest is regard as a light entertainment spectacular, with a strong following among the gay and lesbian community. Many fans dress up, hold parties and gather round the TV to watch the three-hour-plus televised marathon.

In recent years, however, eastern European nations, which take the contest much more seriously, have come to dominate.

The contest is also known for its political edge, as nations either give zero points to traditional enemies -- or, if they are enjoying good relations, the maximum number of points, as a sign of friendship.

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The most famous winners of the contest were ABBA, who came to attention as the Swedish entry with "Waterloo" in 1974. In 1988, Celine Dion won the contest while singing on behalf of Switzerland. The dance show Riverdance first came to attention as an interval act when the contest was held in Dublin, Ireland, in 1994.

The organizers of the contest estimate it is watched by 100 million people worldwide.

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