Olympics: Putin lifts ban on protests at Sochi Games

AFP, Saturday 4 Jan 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed a decree lifting a blanket ban on political protests at the Sochi Winter Olympics, bowing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The decree allows demonstrations and marches at locations or along routes that must be agreed with officials in the Black Sea resort city along with the regional police and security forces.

It also allows officials to set limits on how many people can take part in protests during the Games, which run from February 7 to 23.

Putin had issued a decree in August that forbade any rallies or marches over issues unrelated to the Games from being held inside the tightly controlled security zone.

The draconian measure was to take effect on January 7 and last until March 21 after the city hosts the Paralympic Games from March 7 to 16.

But IOC President Thomas Bach said in December that the Russian organisers had agreed to allow a "protest zone" at the games after discussions with the committee, saying he welcomed the move.

US President Barack Obama and European leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron have announced they will not attend the opening ceremony amid concerns over Russia's rights record and particularly a recent law banning "homosexual propaganda".

Russia is introducing extremely strict security measures during the games, including drone surveillance, limited transport access to the city and monitoring of the phone records of athletes and journalists accredited to the event.

Fears that Islamist militants could stage attacks during the Games were heightened by two suicide bombings last month in the southern city of Volgograd, a transport hub 700 kilometres (400 miles) from Sochi.

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