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British actor Stephen Fry on Thursday clashed with the Russian politician behind a controversial law in the second city of Saint Petersburg that activists see as violating the rights of gays.
Fry, who is openly gay, met city lawmaker Vitaly Milonov while filming a BBC documentary titled "Out There" about being gay around the world, he wrote on Twitter.
Best known for playing valet Jeeves in the British comedy series "Jeeves and Wooster," Fry is hugely popular in Russia and his meeting with Milonov prompted a heated discussion.
Milonov, of ruling United Russia party, was the sole author of a law passed by the Saint Petersburg parliament making it illegal to carry out "propaganda of homosexuality" among minors.
The loosely worded law can be used to ban any Gay Pride event and equates homosexuality with paedophilia, critics say. It sets a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,200) as punishment.
Milonov has become a hate figure to some rights activists but the Russian parliament is considering making the measure federal law, in line with Saint Petersburg and several other regions.
During the interview, which lasted more than an hour, Fry wrote on Twitter that "Milonov and I (are) going at it hammer and tongs."
Milonov "doesn’t seem to believe there are teenagers bullied and tormented for being gay, he thinks they make it up and indoctrinate to minors," he said.
He finally called the interview "all very sad."
"A lot of politicians say that homosexuality has a bad influence on citizens' patriotic feelings. Listen, that's just ridiculous!" he told TV Rain channel afterwards in comments dubbed into Russian.
-- 'Dobby the House Elf' --
But Milonov told AFP afterwards that Fry was unwilling to see his point of view.
"Fry is making a film about gays and according to the rules of the genre, he needed an opinion opposing his. But in reality he was not at all interested in it," he said.
"For him, we who support the law against promotion of homosexuality are just crazy savages."
"This law and our attitude to homosexuality is our internal affair. It's our own choice. We don't want to see our civilisation die," he said.
Yet in televised comments, Milonov, 39, who has ginger hair and a beard, praised Fry as "a very talented, very remarkable person -- even if I look more like an Englishman than he does."
Milonov also said he had promised to pray for Fry's family and told Kommersant FM radio station that "I saw a deep tragedy in his eyes: he is forced to blaspheme against God and that is a very grave sin."
Photographs of Fry and Milonov shaking hands infuriated one of Russia's most prominent gay rights activists, Nikolai Alexeyev, who has organised a series of gay parades that were roughly broken up in Moscow.
"It's not clear why the hell he is giving him more publicity. Fry will fly out and the homophobia will remain," he wrote on Twitter.
Wearing a tweed overcoat and a furry hat with earflaps, Fry, 55, told journalists that Russians needed to take a more humorous view of President Vladimir Putin, remarking on his likeness to the Dobby the House Elf character in the "Harry Potter" series.
Some jokingly compared Fry to France's Gerard Depardieu, whom the Russian authorities have showered with citizenship and the keys to two apartments after he sought to become a tax exile.
"For homosexual propaganda in Saint Petersburg, all that comedian Stephen Fry will get is some warm clothes and a registered address in Magadan," wrote Mid Roissi on Twitter, referring to a harsh prison camp zone.
A survey published this week by Levada independent polling centre found that 67 percent of Russians supported a ban on propaganda of homosexuality.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and officially removed it from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1999. But homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable and almost no public figures have come out as gay.