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IOC tours Games village, remembers Volgograd victims

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach smiles as Russia's ice hockey player Iya Gavrilova (L) and U.S speed skater Anna
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach smiles as Russia's ice hockey player Iya Gavrilova (L) and U.S speed skater Anna

By Karolos Grohmann

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach paid tribute to victims of the recent bombing in Volgograd during a tour of the Sochi Games athletes village on Tuesday.

Bach, who was elected head of the IOC in September, also said people of all 'perspectives' were welcome at the Olympics.

Russia triggered criticism and boycott calls for the Games when it banned spreading "gay propaganda" to children in June. Critics have denounced the law as discriminatory and said it was a curb on rights to free speech and assembly.

Russia is gearing up for its first winter Olympics, which start on February 7.

"We remember and grieve for the innocent victims of conflict and especially the recent victims of Volgograd," Bach said at the athletes compound, with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and top IOC officials looking on.

The December bombings, which killed 34 people, were aimed at derailing the Olympics, on which President Vladimir Putin has staked his and his country's reputation.

The Games at the Black Sea resort, which have become the most expensive at more than $50 billion, are being held under tight security as Islamic militants in the nearby north Caucasus battle for independence from Russia.

One of their leaders had urged fighters to stop the Games from taking place.

"Our presence here today is a rebuke to those whose motives and goals stand in sharp contrast to the spirit of harmony and global solidarity at these Games," said Bach.

The German also made a veiled reference to the furor regarding the anti-gay propaganda law.

"Men and women from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions and different perspectives live side-by-side in harmony," he said of the athletes' village that will house some 2,200 people from 47 nations.

"Here in the village, the remarkable diversity of human life finds unity through sport," he said before a quick game of table tennis, a tour of the gym and the athletes restaurant.

Bach has discouraged athletes from demonstrating against the controversial law on the podium but said they could express their opinions at news conferences without fear of sanction.

However, Games organizers said last week that even that would go against the Olympic Charter's ban on any political statements within Olympic venues.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann)

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