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Eminem: Hero or homophobe?

LONDON, England -- Eminem kicks off a sell-out tour of Britain this week with fans enraptured by the rap giant's edgy showmanship and critics aghast at his violent lyrics.

Gay rights activists are promising to stage protests at the American star's three gigs, while critics say Eminem's show-stealing act -- which features a man, a stage and a chainsaw -- has no place this side of the Atlantic.

The controversy is translating into big sales for 28-year-old Marshall Bruce Mathers III, who made his name as Eminem in 1999 with the single, My Name Is.

"All three concerts sold out within an hour of going on sale," Sundraj Sreenivasan, Eminem's agent in Britain, said on Wednesday.

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The Detroit white rapper will perform his first concert in Manchester on Thursday, followed by gigs in London on Friday and Saturday, Sreenivasan said. His movements are otherwise shrouded in secrecy as the threat of protests mounts.

The gay rights group Outrage says it will make its presence felt at all the venues in protest at bigoted lines in Eminem's tracks.

One Eminem song includes lines about killing "faggots," while another tells of an obsessed music fan who drowns his girlfriend.

"His homophobic jibes help make bigotry cool and acceptable," said Peter Tatchell of Outrage.

But Tatchell said staging such protests would be difficult due to Eminem's tight security arrangements.

"He is deliberately avoiding public engagements in order to deny us a chance to confront him," said Tatchell.

'Texas chainsaw massacre'

Fans in Manchester will miss out on Eminem's spectacular "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" act that kicks off his show.

The city council has decreed that if he brings a chainsaw on stage, it must be switched off to comply with health and safety regulations.

The other two concerts are to be held in London's Docklands Arena.

Eminem's lyrics have already prompted students at Sheffield University in northern England to ban his songs and t-shirts.

Those who show up in baggy Eminem-wear at the university's disco have been warned they would be turned away.

But his musical star refuses to wane.

And in the UK, the media continues to agonise over whether the rapper is a genius, or a misogynist and gay basher.

A writer in Britain's Guardian newspaper argued on Tuesday that the rapper's lyrics "have all the depth and texture of the greatest examples of English verse."

Eminem won best hip-hop and rap act at the NME Carling awards on Tuesday. He is also expected to attend Britain's biggest musical awards show, the Brits, on February 26, when controversy is sure to follow.

Critics in the United States have already targeted Eminem as being too violent to appear at the Grammy Awards ceremony, even though he has received four nominations.

The San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, an anti-violence group, has launched a "No to Eminem" campaign to keep him off the awards ceremony on February 21.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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