MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russian police detained gay protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in central Moscow on Sunday while nationalists shouting "death to homosexuals" punched and kicked the demonstrators.
Riot police detained gay rights activists as they tried to present a petition asking Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has called gay marches satanic acts, to lift a ban on the parade.
Nationalists and extreme Russian Orthodox believers held icons and denounced homosexuality as "evil" while a group of thick-set young men turned up with surgeon's masks, which they said would protect them from the "gay disease." (Watch angry opponents punch protesters )
"We are defending our rights," said a young gay man named Alexey, with blood pouring out of his nose after he was beaten up by a man screaming "homosexuals are perverts" opposite the mayor's office. His attacker was detained.
"This is terrible but I am not scared. This is a pretty scary place, a pretty scary country if you are gay. But we won't give up until they allow us our rights," he said.
Hundreds of riot police lined Tverskaya street in central Moscow and plain-clothes police mingled with a large number of foreign and Russian journalists.
Parade organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told Reuters by telephone from a police station that about 20 people had been detained, a figure confirmed by police.
"We are sitting in the police station right now. We were detained outside the mayor's office when we tried to present the petition," said Alexeyev.