The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, avoided a question about the comments by Moscow’s mayor that gay people are Satanic.

Instead Mr Putin joked that Russia’s low birth rate may be due to homosexual people.

“I link this issue to the performance of my duties and one of the main problems in the country – demography,” Vladimir Putin told journalists.

Russia’s population is aging, and the birth rate is the 173rd highest in the world, with only 9.95 children born per 1000 persons per year.

The country is suffering from a population decline of some 700,000 a year.

At a news conference in the Kremlin, the President gave his backing to mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has spoken of his hatred for gay and lesbian people on many occasions.

Earlier this week the mayor vowed to ban a Pride march in Moscow planned for May 27th.

The organisers of Moscow Pride vowed on Monday to hold the event in 2007, as they formally start proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights concerning last year’s Pride.

In May 2006 the first Pride march in the city was beset by violence and police intimidation after Moscow’s mayor refused to grant a permit.

Moscow Pride organiser Nicolas Alexeyev said that the May event will definitely be going ahead, and that an application for a parade will be made in accordance with Russian law.

Mr Alexeyev told PinkNews.co.uk:

“It is about the future, in which the rights of homosexual people will be acknowledged and respected and where they will not be second class citizens without fundamental rights.”

Moscow Pride 2007 will take place on Sunday May 27, marking the day in 1993 when homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia.

Last year over 120 people, including a German MP, were arrested during the chaotic scenes as gay campaigners from all over the world converged in the Russian capital.

They were met by religious and nationalist protesters chanting anti-gay slogans and 1,000 riot police with orders to stop demonstrations in Red Square.

Arrests were made after a group of activists, including Mr Alexeyev, attempted to lay flowers at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a war memorial, equating the struggle for gay rights with fighting fascism.

Eyewitnesses said gay activists were beaten by protesters.

The 20-page application to the European Court of Human Rights concerns two seperate issues: the ban by Moscow authorities of the gay pride march and the banning of the alternative Pride picket, both scheduled for May 27, 2006.