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Moscow (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said gays need not fear persecution at the Winter Olympic Games, but stood by a controversial ban on promoting homosexuality to children.

“We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations between people,” Putin told a group of volunteers who will be working at the Games.

“We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia,” Putin said in televised comments from host city Sochi, with three weeks to go until the event.

“We don’t ban anything and we won’t arrest anyone,” he said. “Therefore you can feel calm, relaxed. But leave children alone please.”

Gay rights activists around the world have called for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in protest against a law banning the dissemination of so-called “gay propaganda” to minors.

The president’s comments, reiterating a stance that suggests homosexuals prey on young people, were unlikely to appease critics of the ban.

United States President Barack Obama has pointedly announced he was sending an Olympic delegation that includes several openly gay sports figures, among them tennis legend Billie Jean King.

A senior cleric from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely allied to Putin, this month called for a national debate on returning a Soviet-era law repealed in 1993 that criminalized gay sex.

One of the volunteers, set to assist visitors at the Games, commented on their rainbow-colored uniforms and asked if they could be breaching the ban on gay propaganda, the Interfax news agency reported.

“How did it happen that we have a law banning gay propaganda, but the volunteers’ uniform is rainbow colored?” she asked.

Putin answered tersely that he did not design the uniform, the report said.

Photo: Maxim Shipenko via AFP

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