A high-ranking official in Moscow has joined in the growing debate over the city’s refusal to allow a gay rights parade this year.

Georgy Muradov, head of the city’s international relations department, yesterday likened homosexuality to alcoholism and argued that both are “bad for one’s health.”

His remarks came as he tried to fend off criticisms from the Swedish ambassador to the Russian Federation who had protested that the city’s decision to ban a Pride march for the second year in a row.

Muradov said the ban on the parade was aimed to protect the health and well-being of society.

“As you know, the sale of alcohol is restricted in many Scandinavian countries.

“Why not pose the question of removing the limits on alcohol in these countries, of holding a “parade of alcoholics” in Sweden?

“They would answer: no, it’s bad for one’s health, it affects society’s morals,” he said.

Research has found that binge drinking has played a major role in the steep rises in Russia’s death rates since the early 1990s, in particular affecting men between the ages of 35 and 49.

Russian men have a low mortality rate and alcohol remains a major factor, especially among the poor.

In an interview with RIA-Novosti, Mr Muradov said:

“There is the hard line of the city authorities and the position of our main faith, the Russian Orthodox Church … of the inadmissibility of such an event in Moscow.”

His assertion that he has “medical proof” that “this form of relations” is harmful to health, comes after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, joked last month that homosexual people are partly responsible for Russia’s ageing population and low birth-rate.

Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov has already angered his counterparts in London, Berlin and Paris by steadfastly refusing to grant a license to the march, having recently branded such events as ‘satanic’.

He is expected to face a rebuke during a meeting next week with the mayors.

If the march – scheduled for May – is cancelled, it will be the second year in a row that the authorities have intervened in the event.

Last year they refused to accept an application for a march, citing the threat of violence.

Activists ignored the ban, however, and were attacked by right-wing protesters and later detained by police.

Last month, Pride organisers lost their appeal at Moscow City Court against the ruling of a lower court that upheld the city’s ban on the event.

Their case is now before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“The Russian government is already concerned because they are sure to lose the case,” said Mr Alexseyev.

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

The Russian Federation reiterated on Monday that peaceful demonstrations in support of gay rights must be allowed to take place and can only be stopped when there is a danger of disorder which cannot be prevented by reasonable force.

The events of first Moscow gay pride are the subject of a documentary film by Vladimir Ivanov, MOCKBA. PRIDE ’06.

The film will be shown in London in March as part of the GAHLA film festival.