Aug 2, 12:39 PM EDT

Russian police detain several gay activists

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) -- Police in St. Petersburg on Sunday detained several gay activists who have held pickets in defense of gay rights on a Russian military holiday.

Yuri Gavrikov, the leader of a gay rights group, was detained by police as he left his home to hold a one-man picket in front of the Hermitage Museum.

Police accused him of cursing on the street, which he denied. Gavrikov was held at a police station pending a court hearing.

Veterans of Russian Airborne Forces confronted several other gay activists, who held individual pickets near the Hermitage, and tore up their posters. Police quickly took the gay activists away, even though the law allows one-person pickets without permission from authorities.

"Yes, I'm gay, and I have similar rights to other people," said one activist, Alexei Nazarov, who traveled from Moscow to stage a picket.

Paratroopers gathered in many Russian cities to mark the Airborne Forces Day on Sunday.

"What they do here is not right, it's terrible," said one veteran paratrooper, Alexander Fadeyev, who tried to tear the slogans from protesters' hands. "We're in Russia and not in America. Let them do what they want in America, but not in Russia."

Russia has been widely criticized for infringement on gay rights following the passage of a law that prohibits vaguely defined "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors.

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