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Putin bans protests in Sochi during Russia's Winter Olympics

Vladimir Putin has banned protests during the Winter Olympics. A decree designates Olympic venues, ports, train stations and road checkpoints as "controlled zones" where all people and belongings will be searched.

The presidential decree published in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta imposes special zones on the territory of Sochi "in order to reinforce security" during the February games in the Black Sea resort. The decree also imposes a vast "forbidden zone" with restricted access, not just to Olympic sites but much of the greater Sochi area and bans all cars not locally registered or specially permitted from the city. The document also bans car crossing of the border to Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia, which lies several kilometers from the Olympic park.

Putin's plan prohibits any public demonstrations "not related to the holding of the Olympic Games" in the area in the period from January 7 to March 21, 2014.

Russia will host the Winter Olympics from February 7 to February 23 and the Paralympics from March 7 to 16. Even before Putin's decree, the event had drawn plenty of controversy over property rights, environment, corruption and gay rights. Human Rights Watch, for example, has alleged that authorities have made human rights and other activists "the targets of attacks, detention for peaceful protests and police searches."

'Unconstitutional'

The latest measures have caused further outcry, including from activists who plan to stage protests at the games against Russia's ban on "gay propaganda," a controversial law that has prompted calls for nations to boycott the Olympics altogether. Activists said that police could use the decree to justify the dispersal of any protests.

"The president's decree on a rally moratorium in Sochi during the Olympics is unconstitutional," the gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter. "There still will be a gay pride parade."

Authorities have repeatedly denied gay activists' applications to set up a Pride House in Sochi during the Games but Alexeyev said he would apply for permission to hold a pride rally in Sochi on the opening day of the Games anyway.

"Putin's decree has turned Sochi-2014 into Moscow-1980," the television channel Dozhd posted on its Twitter page, comparing the measure to those during Moscow's 1980 Summer Olympics, when Soviet authorities restricted entry to the capital and forced people deemed antisocial, including dissidents, out of the city limits.

The human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov tweeted, "Did the president impose a state of emergency in Sochi?"

mkg/dr (AFP, AP)

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