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Putin says gays 'can feel safe' at Sochi Winter Olympics

By Laura Smith-Spark and Nic Robertson, CNN
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 1608 GMT (0008 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says homosexuals have nothing to fear in Russia
  • "You can feel safe and free here, but please leave our children in peace," he says
  • His remarks come as he meets volunteers for the upcoming Winter Olympics
  • Putin told ambassadors Thursday the games would be held "without any discrimination"

Sochi, Russia (CNN) -- Russia's Vladimir Putin again sought to downplay fears that gay visitors will be discriminated against as he paid a visit to the Sochi area Friday, exactly three weeks before the Winter Olympics get under way.

Putin's remarks came as he met with volunteers for the games, the state-run Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The President said Russia, unlike some other countries, does not criminalize homosexual relationships.

"We don't outlaw anything and don't nab anyone," Putin said.

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"That's why you can feel safe and free here, but please leave our children in peace," he added.

Russia has come under international pressure since its parliament passed a law last summer outlawing "gay propaganda." The legislation makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality.

The law has been widely criticized by Western leaders who have called it archaic and discriminatory. Human rights activists say it proves Russia is unworthy of hosting the latest Winter Olympics.

Putin's meeting with the Olympic volunteers came a day after he told foreign ambassadors in Moscow that the event would be held "without any discrimination" against athletes and visitors.

"The games will be held in complete compliance with the Olympic Charter, without any discrimination on the basis of any characteristic," Putin said Thursday, according to state media.

The Olympic Charter states that: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

Police presence

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Security has been stepped up in and around Sochi ahead of the Games.

A twin bomb attack on public transit in the southern city of Volgograd at the end of December heightened concerns that Islamist terrorists may seek to strike in Sochi.

There was a heavy police presence on the streets of the Black Sea resort Friday as Putin visited the area.

Two security blimps also hovered in the skies above the Sochi Olympic Village, allowing long-range monitoring of activities on the ground.

Meanwhile, last-minute construction work continues apace ahead of the expected influx of 6,000 athletes from 85 countries and thousands more visitors from around the world.

The event has cost at least $50 billion to stage, including major infrastructure work in and around Sochi.

READ: Is Russia about to pass another anti-gay law?

READ: Russia's 'anti-gay' law pushes gay community into shadows

CNN's Nic Robertson reported from Sochi and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London. CNN's Phil Black and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

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