by Rex Wockner
City authorities in Minsk, Belarus, banned the May 15 gay pride parade and when a group of 40 people marched anyway, police attacked "like a group of wild dogs" and beat them.
In blocking the march, officials cited a national law that prohibits public events within 200 meters of subway stations and pedestrian tunnels.
Slavic Gay Pride co-organizer Nikolai Alekseev called the ban "absurd," pointing out that "there have been many marches and parades in the past using the same route."
Organizers vowed to challenge the ban before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and about 40 people decided to defy it.
The first attempt to march, at 1:10 p.m., was aborted at the last moment. In a text message from the scene, organizers said: "Risks too big. (Co-organizer Sergei) Androsenko canceled the 1:10 p.m. plan and postponed to later."
At 1:24 p.m., local activists live-blogging the drama via the servers of UK Gay News reported: "Several police buses and even military troops have gathered next to the place where Pride organizers were supposed to meet media to take them to the start of the march. 'It is not possible to do anything around (here) but we did not give up yet,' organizers said defiantly. There are about 60 journalists waiting to cover the Slavic Pride."
Finally, at 2:53 p.m., "a short-lived march took place with 40 participants," activists live-blogged. "Violent crackdown from anti-riot police. A big mess."
By 3:08 p.m., the bloggers had the full scoop. They wrote: "Minsk had its gay pride march. For just 10 minutes, 40 Belarusians and Russians waved a 12-meters-long rainbow flag for a short march of approximately 200 meters. They were at first met by a large group of journalists, photographers and TV crew. But when they reached the first crossing point, they were trapped by several vans of anti-riot police. Suddenly, the doors of the vans opened and anti-riot officers ran towards the participants. 'I never saw anything of the kind,' said Nikolai Alekseev. ... 'They were brutal and violent,' he added. Another participant who did not want to be named said, 'It was like a group of wild dogs.' The march ended with most of the participants being arrested and violently beaten. A few managed to escape but the police ran after them."
"I've never run so fast in my life," Alekseev said afterward. "After we ran away from the anti-riot police, (activist) Ira Fet and I took refuge in the small room of a VIP building where they keep the trash. We stayed there for 20 minutes while I was receiving calls from media outlets."
Co-organizer Androsenko initially managed to escape the police rampage but was later nabbed with other participants while sitting in a cafe. Reports varied, but at least 12 marchers and 18 skinhead counter-protesters were detained.
At least two pride participants suffered serious enough injuries to require medical treatment while in custody, the live blog reported.
"We are outraged to see so much police violence against a peaceful event and we can only admire the courage of these 40 heroes who took part to this march today despite knowing the risks," said Louis-Georges Tin, president of Paris-based IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
For remarkable video of portions of the police attack, see tinyurl.com/belwilddg.
Other Belarusian pride week events included parties, exhibitions, seminars, films and a news conference.
A May 14 screening of the Canadian documentary "Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride" at the Crowne Plaza Minsk hotel was delayed when anti-gay protesters laid "siege" to the hotel, organizers said on the live blog.
At 7:55 p.m., they reported: "Hotel is now under siege. It is not possible to enter, and not possible to leave." At 8:25 p.m., they reported: "Police have called the anti-riot police to remove the protesters. ... Hotel security reports that they already found some protesters inside the hotel." By 8:40 p.m.: "Police and riot police have cleared the entrance to the hotel and have cordoned it off. Participants are entering."
Then came the bomb threat. At 9:40 p.m., the bloggers reported: "Bomb alert at Crowne Plaza. Film interrupted. Police asked to stop the film and relocate to another room within the hotel. So, we are having a break and relocating."
The movie and the 100 attendees relocated and the film finished up at 10:50 p.m., the bloggers reported.