A municipal leader in Russia has said that a planned protest against homophobia by gay rights activists cannot go ahead.

The mayor of the city of Tambov, 480km south of Moscow, said in a letter to organisers that the protest cannot happen tomorrow because the police cannot not guarantee the safety of the event.

It would have been the first authorised gay rights protest in Russia’s history.

On Monday the city administration verbally authorised the event but asked for a new location. The next day organisers submitted the requested amended application.

However, today the activists said that in a letter “City Hall argued that the view of the majority of the citizens of Tambov as well as the impossibility for local police to secure the event are sufficient reasons to ban tomorrow’s action.”

The authorities have also said a gay Pride march planned for later this month will not be authorised because it may disrupt traffic.

“These arguments are in full contradiction not only with Russian Constitution but also with the European Convention on Human Rights,” said gay activist Nicolas Alexeyev.

“As always, we will take this unlawful ban through the Russian court system up to the Strasbourg court.”

Following a scandal that led to the arrest of the former mayor of Tambov, the region’s Governor made a series of homophobic statements, including one that seemed to call for violence against gays.

Mayor Maxim Kosenkov was arrested in April and removed from office after he allegedly kidnapped his 19-year-old former lover.

The fact that the mayor was revealed to be gay appears to trouble Governor Oleg Betin more than the actual kidnapping.

In a June interview with the national daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, in response to a question on his tolerance levels, Betin was quoted as saying:

“Tolerance? To hell with that! Gomiki [a pejorative term for gays] need to be torn apart!

“Then scatter their pieces to the wind!

“I am against perversion.”

The cancelled protest was to accuse Mr Betin of incitement of hatred towards gays as a social group.

The mayor of Moscow has called gay rights activists “Satanic” and banned Pride in 2006 and 2007.

This year Pride organisers applied for permission to hold five marches a day, every day of May.

All were rejected by Moscow municipal authorities on the grounds they would “endanger public order and cause negative reaction of the majority of the population.”

On June 1st a group of 30 gay activists managed to stage short protests in front of Moscow City Hall and a statue of Tchaikovsky without being arrested.

The short demonstrations were planned in order to take the authorities by surprise.

The organisers of Moscow Pride have already announced their plans for 2009.

Russia won the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year for the first time, and next year’s final will be held on May 16th at Moscow’s Olympiyskiy stadium.

“We will conduct the gay Pride on the day of the Eurovision final,” Mr Alexeyev said.

“As usual we will notify Moscow authorities about the conduct of the event.”

Pride activists will be holding an international conference dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17th.

Legal challenges to the bans on Pride in Moscow are before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.