Moscow -

About 20 masked men stormed into a gay bar in central Moscow and assaulted its customers, injuring four, a spokeswoman for the bar's owner said on Friday.

The attack late on Thursday appeared to be timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day on October 11, an internationally recognised date when gays, lesbians and transsexuals are encouraged to reveal their sexual identity.

“Yesterday, around 20 people wearing masks and hoods came into the bar and went on a rampage,” a spokeswoman for the gay-friendly bar called 7freedays told AFP.

As a result of the attack in the bar in central Moscow, four people were injured including at least one woman, and three were hospitalised, the spokeswoman said, adding that the assailants fled before police arrived.

Several dozen people were in the bar at the time of the attack late Thursday night.

One witness said he initially thought the attack was part of the show to mark the event.

“I thought it was part of the show because it was Coming Out day and people came in wearing masks,” Pavel Samburov said in televised remarks. “Only later I realised it wasn't a show but an attack.”

“It was really scary,” added another witness, Sergei Mozzhegor.

“We literally had to shield ourselves with the tables so that no dishes or glass would fly our way,” he said in televised remarks.

Homophobic sentiments run high in Russia.

In July, authorities in the country's second city Saint Petersburg banned what would have been Russia's first authorised gay pride rally after a deluge of complaints from residents.

Russia legalised homosexuality in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union but only ceased to classify it as a mental disorder in 1999. - Sapa-AFP