- (Photo: Reuters/Alexi Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that gay people can "feel safe and free" in Russia during the Winter Olympics, which are three weeks away, but warned them to "leave our children in peace."
"We don't outlaw anything and don't nab anyone," Putin said during a visit in Sochi, according to Itar-Tass news agency. "Our law prescribes no responsibility for these kinds of relationships unlike laws in some other countries do."
He added that gay people can "feel safe and free here but please leave our children in peace."
Russia's laws and attitude toward gay people have been much discussed in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
The Russian president signed into law a parliament-approved bill in June that outlawed the "propagation" of information relating to homosexuality, making it illegal for anyone to spread information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors.
He later insisted that the bill is not an attack on the gay community, but is meant to protect Russia's younger generation.
"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," Putin said.
Gay activists have argued that the law is anti-gay, and have threatened to protest the Winter Olympics in support of LGBT people. The International Olympic Committee clarified in September, however, that the homosexuality propaganda ban is not against its policies.
"The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle," it said. "To that end, the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."
Russian Sports Minister Vitali Mutko has added that the country's constitution protects citizens to live as they please, but added that athletes and organizations need to respect Russia's sovereignty.
"It is not intended to deprive people of any religion, race or sexual orientation but to ban the promotion of non-traditional relations among the young generation," Mutko said at a news conference in August. "I was in Sochi yesterday and all the athletes and organizations should be relaxed, their rights will be protected ... but of course you have to respect the laws of the country you are in."
And on Thursday, Putin again assured that "the Games will be held in complete compliance with the Olympic Charter, without any discrimination on the basis of any characteristic."
Russian authorities have clarified that they will allow protests at the Winter Olympics, which start on Feb. 7, at a special zone where they will increase security.