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Putin Asks Olympics' Gay Visitors to ‘Leave the Children Alone’

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with upcoming Olympic games' volunteers in Sochi on January 17, 2014. Photographer: Alexey Nikolsky/AFP via Getty Images

Gay visitors to the Winter Olympics in Sochi are free to visit and will not be targeted by the country’s law banning homosexual “propaganda” to minors, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

“We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being detained,” Putin said at a press conference in Sochi yesterday, referring to homosexual relations. “There is no punishment for these kinds of relations, unlike many other countries,” he said. “You can feel free and relaxed, but please leave the children alone.”

Gay rights activists plan to challenge Putin and pressure Olympic sponsors by protesting the vaguely worded ban on homosexual propaganda during the Sochi Games. The Russian leader has made the Sochi Olympics a showcase for his country, which is allocating $48 billion to the event, the most ever spent on the Winter Games.

The U.S. government announced last month that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden won’t be attending the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7. The U.S. delegation will include openly gay athletes, including tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow, underscoring opposition to Russia’s treatment of gay people.

Islamic militants have threatened to target the Winter Olympics. More than 30 people died in two suicide bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd last month.

The Sochi games are in the national interest of Russia and will give Russians a chance to prove they can host large-scale events, Putin said in an interview posted on the Kremlin website today.

“This is not about my personal ambition,” Putin said. “After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., and after the tough and, honestly, bloody events in the Caucasus, society was in a state of depression and pessimism. We need to shake that off.”

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