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EURASIA > Olympics: Putin bans protests in Sochi, causing LGBT activists' outcry

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse

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A woman holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Madrid, Spain Friday Aug. 23. The protesters criticized Russia's new law on LGBT individuals, calling for the Winter 2014 Olympic Games to be taken away from Sochi. Russia issued a law that bans 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations' and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies. AP photo

A woman holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Madrid, Spain Friday Aug. 23. The protesters criticized Russia's new law on LGBT individuals, calling for the Winter 2014 Olympic Games to be taken away from Sochi. Russia issued a law that bans 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations' and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies. AP photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned protests in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next year and ordered severely restricted access to the city, according to a decree published Aug. 23.

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 Games in the Black Sea resort in February.

It designates the Olympic venues, ports, train stations and special road checkpoints as "controlled zones" where all people and belongings will be searched.

The document also imposes a vast "forbidden zone" with restricted access, and bans all cars from Sochi unless the vehicles have special accreditation or are locally owned. The decree also 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. The move was immediately denounced by activists, who said it was unconstitutional and could be used to justify the dispersal by police of any protests.

Outcry from LGBT activists

The document also bans car crossing of the border to Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia, which lies several kilometres from the Olympic Park. The "forbidden zone" measures affect not only the Olympic venues, but a large part of the greater Sochi area.

The strict measures immediately caused an outcry, including from gay activists who plan to stage protests at the games against Russia's ban on "gay propaganda," a controversial law that has prompted calls to boycott the event altogether.

"The president's decree on a rally moratorium in Sochi during the Olympics is unconstitutional," gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter. "There still will be a gay pride parade." "Did the president impose a state of emergency in Sochi?" tweeted human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov.

"Putin effectively turns Sochi into a special operation zone banning rallies and eliminating freedom of movement," wrote Tatiana Lokshina, a Russia-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Putin's decree has turned Sochi-2014 into Moscow-1980," independent Dozhd television channel said.

It was referring to the unprecedented measures during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, when entry to the capital was restricted while people deemed anti-social, including those with criminal records and dissidents, were forced to leave the city limits.

Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games from February 7 to February 23 2014 and the Paralympics from March 7 to March 16 2014. However the event has already been mired in controversy over property rights, environment, corruption, and most recently gay rights issues.

Sochi's location in close proximity to unstable Abkhazia and the turbulent North Caucasus regions with active Islamist insurgency, has also been criticised. Last month, the Islamist warlord Doku Umarov called on militants to stage attacks against the Sochi Games, saying in a video that jihadists must "exert maximum efforts" to prevent the international event from happening.

August/23/2013

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