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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Racist Road Sign Blows Up Near City

A day after visiting U.S. President George W. Bush stopped at a synagogue and praised religious freedom in Russia, a booby-trapped road sign with an anti-Semitic slogan exploded near Moscow and injured a woman Monday.

The woman, Tatyana Sapunova, 28, lost an eye after she tried to pull the sign out of the ground 32 kilometers southwest of Moscow, local media reported. She was in critical but stable condition at City Hospital No. 1 on Monday night.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said he would take the case under his personal control.

"All incidents of extremism or racial intolerance will be handled with the maximum strictness allowed by law," he said, Interfax reported.

Sapunova and her daughter were driving on Kievskoye Shosse at noon Monday when she saw the sign near a turnoff to Vnukovo Airport, Interfax reported. She stopped her Gazel minibus and got out. The explosion took place as she tugged on the sign.

The blast had the force of 100 grams to 200 grams of TNT, Interfax said.

Television footage showed the sign with "Smert Zhidam," or "Death to Yids" written in large black paint lying in the trees along the road, where it had been hurled by the blast.

Berl Lazar, one of Russia's two chief rabbis, called for more effective action against extremism, Interfax reported.

Lazar was with Bush on Sunday when the president visited St. Petersburg's Grand Choral Synagogue and said he was impressed by religious freedom in Russia.

The synagogue's head rabbi, Menahem-Mendel Pevzner, said at the time that the visit was an endorsement of a revival of the Jewish faith in Russia since Soviet days.

The blast came amid heightened fears of racist violence in Moscow in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Pavel Krashenninikov, chairman of the legislature committee of the State Duma, said Monday that a bill to crack down on extremism should be passed by parliament before the current session ends at the beginning of July.

Speaking at a news conference, he said the bill has the support of the presidential administration and the government and would be presented for a first reading June 6.

"We are behind Europe on this by 50 years," Krashenninikov said, pointing out that many West European governments enacted laws to stop the spread of Nazi movements after World War II.

"You can't buy 'Mein Kampf' on the streets of Berlin or Paris, but you can on the streets of Moscow," Krashenninikov said.

The bill provides for the shutdown of extremist organizations and will not only target radicals and their leaders but also those who disseminate extremist material, including the mass media, he said.

Asked if he had a list of extremist organizations, he said, "This law will be able to deal with organizations that are not on any lists."

Krashenninikov, a former justice minister, said he was heartened that the bill puts the responsibility of deciding whether a group qualifies as extremist on judges, not bureaucrats.

The extremism bill is not without its skeptics.

"Existing laws are already sufficient to counter the threat," said Mara Polyakova, director of the Independent Council of Legal Experts.

The key to combating extremism is the political will to take action, she said.

Peter Schulze, Russian director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, cautioned that any law must be narrowly defined.

"If you do not safeguard the intermediaries within society, such as political parties, it [a law on extremism] could become an instrument of misuse," he said.

His foundation, which is affiliated to the German Social Democrat Party, is taking representatives from the Federal Security Service, the Kremlin, the Duma and the Federation Council to Germany next month to see how it deals with extremism.

In Germany, political parties cannot be prosecuted by a ministry or a lower court but only by the Constitutional Court, Schulze said.

The former West Germany had banned only two parties -- a right-wing radical group and the German Communist Party -- on the grounds that they opposed the democratic order of the country.

The Communist Party was finally allowed to regroup after it signaled that it would operate within the law, Schulze said.

Other German laws had acted against religious extremists -- for instance, Scientology is considered a sect rather than a religion because it does not comply with the law on religion, he said. As a result, it has been prosecuted for some of its activities.

Since Sept. 11, similar laws had been used to fight Muslim organizations that achieved some freedom as religious or cultural bodies, Schulze said. "Under new laws, they are very much scrutinized. They don't have so much liberty anymore," he said.