Gay groups planning to attend the Russian gay pride march in the Spring may face violent protests from Muslim groups.

The leader of Russia’s Muslims on Tuesday called for a “violent mass protest” if gay leaders go ahead with Pride celebrations. Chief Russian Mufti Talgat Tajuddin said gays could be killed if they went ahead.

“Muslims’ protests can be even worse than these notorious rallies abroad over the scandalous cartoons,” Mr Tajuddin, of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims, told the Interfax news agency.

“The parade should not be allowed, and if they still come out into the streets, then they should be bashed.”

He added that the Russian Orthodox Church would join the protests along with other groups, “All normal people are going to join it – Muslims and Orthodox alike.”

Mr Tajuddin said that gays could do what they like behind closed doors but not in public, “sexual minorities have no rights, because they have crossed the line. Alternative sexuality is a crime against God.”

Moderate Islamic leaders have distanced themselves from Mr Tajuddin’s remarks and the Orthodox Church would not comment.

Gay Russia is planning a pride parade in the Russian capital on May 27, 2006 despite warnings from the city’s mayor that a permit will not be granted.

The group said it is prepared to take the case all the way to the European Court in Strasbourg. Moscow is the biggest city in Europe never to have had a pride parade.

Gay Russia spokesperson Nikolai Alekseev called Mr Tajuddin’s threats outrageous.

“We have never heard yet so strong words of hatred towards sexual minorities from influential public figure.”

“He said that we have no rights, appealed to violent actions and even to killings of gays. And what is terrible is that he used the current situation in the world, connected with the publication of caricatures, to incite hatred towards those who have absolutely no connection to that.”

In a separate outburst, Rabbi Berl Lazar told the Russian news agency InterFax that if the Gay Pride parade was allowed to go ahead it “would be a blow for morality”. He said: “Sexual perversions” do not have the right to exist.”