"We ask that (other countries) do not interfere in our regulation," he added.

Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev called the law a "historical mistake" that will be appealed in the European Court of Human Rights.

In another controversial step, Mr Putin also signed a bill imposing jail terms and fines on those who offend religious believers, seen as a response to last year's anti-Putin stunt by the punk band Pussy Riot in a Moscow cathedral.

Claiming that his date was under age, they threatened to call the police and to release a video they had secretly filmed unless he paid up.

The gay rights group Vykhod, or Coming Out, said they registered 12 such attacks in St.

The economist, who gave his age as “about 30,” said he thought they were lying about his date being a minor.

But he said the attackers beat and threatened him – and suggested they had friends in the police force who they said would lock him up on fabricated charges.

A poll by independent Levada Centre in April showed that 39 percent of Russians believe that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals, while 47 percent disagreed.

This represented a more conservative trend than a poll from 2005 where figures showed 51 percent for and 35 percent against.

Earlier this week Mr Putin denied the law's anti-gay nature.

"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," he said.

Since homosexuality finds little acceptance in Russian society, many gays keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, friends and co-workers.

This makes them easy extortion targets for criminals.

He said they demanded more than 100,000 rubles (

This represented a more conservative trend than a poll from 2005 where figures showed 51 percent for and 35 percent against.Earlier this week Mr Putin denied the law's anti-gay nature."We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," he said.Since homosexuality finds little acceptance in Russian society, many gays keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, friends and co-workers.This makes them easy extortion targets for criminals.He said they demanded more than 100,000 rubles ($1,500).

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This represented a more conservative trend than a poll from 2005 where figures showed 51 percent for and 35 percent against.

Earlier this week Mr Putin denied the law's anti-gay nature.

"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," he said.

Since homosexuality finds little acceptance in Russian society, many gays keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, friends and co-workers.

This makes them easy extortion targets for criminals.

He said they demanded more than 100,000 rubles ($1,500).

||

This represented a more conservative trend than a poll from 2005 where figures showed 51 percent for and 35 percent against.

Earlier this week Mr Putin denied the law's anti-gay nature.

"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," he said.

Since homosexuality finds little acceptance in Russian society, many gays keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, friends and co-workers.

,500).