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SBD Global/January 6, 2014/Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin Eases Curbs On Protests In Sochi During Winter Games

Russian President Vladimir Putin has eased curbs on demonstrations in the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi "in a gesture likely to burnish Russia's image ahead of an event dogged by security and human rights worries," according to Vladimir Soldatkin of REUTERS. In a statement, the Kremlin said that Putin, who on Saturday attended a rehearsal of the Games' opening ceremony in Sochi, "amended a decree to allow groups to hold some marches and gatherings at sites approved by the security services." The statement said, "Gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets, which are not directly connected to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could be staged on January7-March 21 2014... only after agreeing with... a local security body" (REUTERS, 1/4). In N.Y., Steven Lee Meyers wrote the new order "followed the release of some of the nation’s most prominent prisoners, including the tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, two performers from the punk band Pussy Riot and 30 Greenpeace activists." The protest zone, about nine miles from the nearest Olympic site, "is similar to three created by the Chinese government during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing." In China, however, "the authorities refused to grant permission for any rallies and harassed or arrested those who applied." Human Rights Watch Russia Program Dir Tanya Lokshina said the easing of the ban was part of Russia's "efforts to convince critics that it's a democracy where freedom of expression is respected within reasonable limits." Lokshina: "I suggest they shouldn’t let themselves be convinced that easily" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/4). In Chennai, Vladimir Radyuhin wrote "security concerns were cited as the reason both for imposing the ban and for reversing it." Urging Putin to lift the ban last month, the Federal Security Agency said that "the move would help it manage more effectively potential protests during the Olympics and therefore would improve overall security" (THE HINDU, 1/4). R-SPORT reported IOC President Thomas Bach welcomed steps taken by Putin "to lift a ban on protests." Bach said, "We welcome this announcement. It is in line with the assurances that President Putin gave us last year and part of the Russians authority's plans to ensure free expression during the Games while delivering a safe and secure Games" (R-SPORT, 1/4).
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