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Putin: Gays in Sochi must "leave children in peace"

SOCHI, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says gays should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but they must "leave the children in peace."

Putin told volunteers Friday that gays visiting Sochi "can feel calm and at ease," and vowed that there would be no discrimination at the games. But he emphasized that, according to a law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors, gays cannot express their views on gay rights issues to anyone underage.

 Putin and other politicians have defended the June propaganda law as a protection of child rights, but critics believe that the law discriminates against sexual minorities.

In the wake of international outcry against the bill, Russian authorities have put limits on the right to protest during the Sochi games, which run Feb. 7-23.

On Wednesday, a senior Italian IOC member criticized the United States for including openly gay athletes in its official delegation for the Sochi Olympics.

"It's absurd that a country like that sends four lesbians to Russia just to demonstrate that in their country gay rights have (been established)," Mario Pescante said at an Italian Olympic Committee meeting in Milan on Wednesday, in comments widely reported by Italian media. "The games should not be an occasion and a stage to promote rights that sports supports daily."

Gay Olympian "grateful" to represent U.S. at Sochi Games 01:49
President Obama is sending three openly gay athletes to the games - tennis great Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

In an interview with in December, Cahow said that she doubted that Mr. Obama waited until the Sochi Olympics to send a message to Russia.

"He's been very clear about his thoughts about Russian policy, and he's been very clear about his thoughts on LGBT policy here at home," she said. "I'm going to Russia representing a country that's made dramatic shifts on these particular issues over the last few years."

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