MOSCOW -- Moscow police on Friday detained several gay rights opponents at the first sanctioned gay rights protest in years, marking a sharp reversal of policy after last week's dismissal of the city's notoriously intolerant mayor.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had compared gay people to the devil, and gay rights rallies in Moscow were forbidden. Many went ahead regardless and were violently dispersed under his leadership. He was fired Tuesday after President Dmitry Medvedev said he had lost faith in him.
Two dozen activists protested Friday outside Swiss International Air Line's Moscow office against the carrier's alleged role in the kidnapping of the leader of Russia's gay rights movement, which sparked concern in Western Europe.
Nikolai Alexeyev is widely known in the international gay rights movement for his repeated efforts to organize parades in Moscow.
Alexeyev alleges the airline removed him from a boarding gate at Domodedovo Airport at the behest of four unidentified men, not in uniform, who took him to a police station.
Alexeyev was to board a flight to Geneva but instead was taken to the nearby town of Kashira and, he told The Associated Press, insulted with "all the slang words for homosexuals in the dictionary" and commanded to withdraw complaints filed against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights
Swiss spokeswoman Andrea Kreuzer said the company was informed Alexeyev hadn't properly passed security checks. Russian media quoted a Domodedovo Airport official as saying Alexeyev was detained after refusing to remove his footwear at the security check.
On Friday, Alexeyev and the other activists held aloft posters accusing the Swiss airline of complicity in kidnapping, while police arrested at least four protesters trying to sabotage their rally.
"The police worked professionally, and we are thankful to them," said Alexeyev, who has been roughed up and detained several times by police in the past. "They protected us."
But he added: "I am sure we were allowed to protest just because Luzhkov left." He predicted a new era of openness under Luzhkov's successor, who is yet to be named.