Elton John urges Ukraine to stop attacks on gays
Elton John used an AIDS charity concert in Kyiv on Saturday to make an emotional appeal to Ukraine to stop what he called persecution of gays.
The 65-year-old singer broke off during a two-hour performance, part of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament co-hosted by Ukraine, to speak about reports of physical attacks on members of the former Soviet republic's gay community.
John, a regular visitor to the country, drew cheers from thousands of Ukrainians watching his performance on huge street screens when he described Ukraine as "my second home".
"Recently I read about violence against gay people in Ukraine. Beating up gay people is wrong. This for me does not symbolise Ukraine," he said.
"I plead with you: Stop the violence against gay people."
Ahead of the European soccer championship which began on June 8 and ends on Sunday with the final in Kyiv, a gay pride march in the Ukrainian capital was called off and one of its leaders was beaten by assailants.
Last Saturday, another leading Ukrainian gay rights activist said he had received hospital treatment after being beaten in Kyiv by a group of assailants, who screamed homophobic insults at him.
John, who entered a civil partnership with David Furnish in 2005, regularly champions respect for gay and lesbian rights.
John's concert was preceded by a grim documentary on the toll of AIDS on Ukraine, where more than 1 percent of people are officially diagnosed as HIV-positive and a similar number may be infected but don't know it. The videotape was shown on Independence Square's big-screen TVs. The overflow crowd was mostly attentive and silent watching the emotionally charged segments. Famous people, such as Ukrainian football star Andriy Shevchenko, urged people to use condoms since HIV is rising partly because of unprotected sex among heterosexuals.
The singer came at the invitation of his great friends, Victor and Elena Pinchuk, as he described them before singing a song dedicated to them. John and the Pinchuks work together to raise money for their respective anti-AIDS foundations.
After John, Queen with Adam Lambert performed. Their show was preceded by a tribute to Freddy Mercury, the British musician who led Queens until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1991.
John called Ukraine his "second home," and told Ukrainians: "You're a great people. I love you very much."