Russian ice cream in 'gay propaganda' row
A Russian ice cream maker has been accused of promoting homosexuality after using a rainbow on its packaging.
The head of Russia's official Union of Women said the image amounted to "propaganda" for gay and lesbian relations in a video conference with President Vladimir Putin.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but those deemed to be promoting "homosexual behaviour among minors" face fines of up to 500,000 roubles ($7,000).
"They're quietly promoting these nice rainbow colours, using nice words, they're advertising an ice cream called Rainbow," Yekaterina Lakhova, who is also a former MP, told the Russian president.
This, Ms Lakhova added, could potentially make Russian children more accepting of the rainbow flag used by the LGBTQ community.
She also urged Mr Putin to defend what are known among conservatives in Russia as "traditional values".
They include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which is to be enshrined in the Russian Constitution following a recent public votethat also paves the way for Vladimir Putin to seek two more terms of office.
In a later interview, Ms Lakhova said: "I don't like the rainbow, just as I don't like the swastika."
In response to Ms Lakhova, President Putin said: "If there are reasons to believe that this is propaganda for values that are not traditional to us, then… it must be managed by society, but not aggressively."
He added that he had no objections to homosexuality, only to its "propaganda".
At the same meeting, President Putin criticised the US embassy in Moscow for displaying the rainbow flag recently, saying that the symbol said "something about those who work there".
Homophobia is rife in Russia and, after the flag was displayed, conservative activists placed a similar one on the pavement outside the US embassy for passers-by to wipe their feet on.
The authorities in Russia have been accused of tolerating anti-gay abuse, and there have been allegations of particularly cruel purges in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya.
Rainbow 'not a flag'
The ice-cream maker embroiled in the row said the rainbow on its packaging had nothing to do with LGBT rights.
"Our company advocates traditional family relations, and categorically disagrees with Ms Lakhova. We believe that the rainbow is sunlight after the rain, not the LGBT flag," said Armen Beniaminov, who is vice-president of Chistaya Liniya.
"As the father of a large family, I openly voted for the constitutional amendments specifically because one of them defends the traditional values," he told official news agency RIA Novosti.
Ms Lakhova's claims that ice cream is being used to promote homosexuality has caused an uproar on Russian media.
The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets sarcastically suggested that the rainbow must now be banned from appearing after it rains in Russia, and that the Defence Ministry may be drafted in to fight any rogue rainbows. "Otherwise children will see them!" the paper warned.
A popular Twitter user jokingly demanded that light dispersion be banned in Russia because "it puts homosexual innuendo into normal sunlight".
Journalist Andrei Loshak took a much more serious view of the situation, accusing Putin of trying to use homophobia "as an effective populist tool".
"Someone tell him that times have changed" and Russians are more accepting of gay rights, Mr Loshak wrote on Facebook.
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