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Arrests over 'anti-gay' murder in Volgograd Russia

image captionThe shocking murder in Volgograd sparked much social media comment

Police in southern Russia are questioning three men over a murder reportedly motivated by homophobia.

The victim's naked body had been dumped in a courtyard in the city of Volgograd. His skull was smashed and he had been raped with beer bottles.

A suspect told police he had been killed because he was gay.

But the victim's family and friends say he was not homosexual and investigators have told the BBC there is no reason to believe he was.

The victim, 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi, was reportedly drinking beer with three men in a children's playground when they fell out.

His body was discovered on Friday after World War II Victory Day celebrations in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad.

The first reports about the motive for the killing sparked fears among Russia's gay community and civil rights activists.

'He was normal'

A video of one of the suspects appeared online in which he was asked why Mr Tornovoi was attacked. "Because he said he was gay," the suspect replied.

Igor Kekshin, a friend of the dead man, told the BBC the victim had been drinking with men he had grown up with in the area.

Mr Kekshin said Mr Tornovoi had never shown any interest in people of the same sex and had mixed with a lot of girls.

Contacted by the BBC, investigators in Volgograd said: "We have no information about him belonging to this cast of people or not.

"A lot of media are writing about this and the parents of this lad are going about complaining." According to the investigators, the victim's parents said he was not gay.

Community fears

Gay rights activists said the case highlighted growing intolerance in Russia and accused the authorities of encouraging intolerance.

There are fears that homophobia is being fuelled by legislation banning gay parades and dissemination of "homosexual propaganda" to anyone under 18.

In January a bill banning "homosexual propaganda" passed its first reading in the Russian parliament. The second reading is planned for 25 May.

The bill envisages a nationwide ban on events promoting gay rights and big fines for the organisers. A similar law is already in force in St Petersburg.

The European Court of Human Rights has fined Russia for banning gay pride marches in Moscow.

A prominent gay activist in Russia, Nikolai Alexeyev, says the gay community has asked the Moscow authorities for permission to hold a march in the city centre this month, despite the previous refusals.

The request offered two dates - 25 or 26 May - to celebrate 20 years since Russia stopped treating homosexuality as a criminal offence, Interfax news agency reports.