By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leading rights groups praised the British embassy in Minsk on Tuesday for flying a rainbow flag to support sexual minorities in one of Europe's most homophobic states, after Belarus condemned the UK for challenging its "traditional values".
Britain came under fire from the eastern European country's interior ministry on Sunday, which said on its website that the UK embassy's display of the flag was creating problems "where they do not exist" and that "same-sex relationships are a fake".
Critics say lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face violence and abuse in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994, has said it is "better to be a dictator than gay".
"The British embassy in Belarus was absolutely right to proudly wave the rainbow flag in support of the LGBTI communities facing worrying levels of discrimination," said Polly Truscott, a programme director for Amnesty International.
"Belarus treats LGBTI people like second class citizens ... The UK should be doing all it can to stand with LGBTI human rights defenders trying to make Belarus a safer and fairer place," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Homosexuality is a taboo in Belarus and same-sex marriage is not allowed. It is one of four post-Soviet countries that have recently embarked on a crackdown on LGBT rights, Truscott said, referring to laws banning the promotion of homosexuality.
The British embassy displayed the symbol of LGBT pride outside its compound in the Belarusian capital on May 17 to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
In an Instagram message accompanying a clip of the flying flag, the embassy said the move was "to support the LGBT community and draw public attention to the discrimination LGBT people constantly face".
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) advocacy group ranked Belarus as the 8th worst of 49 European countries for gay rights.
"Visible signs of public support for LGBTI equality are ... crucial in places where members of our communities are being repressed, stigmatised or discriminated against," said ILGA spokeswoman Emma Cassidy.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro.(Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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