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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tougher Rules on Rallies Backed

In what opposition politicians called an attempt to prevent mass protests during national elections, the Moscow City Duma has given tentative approval to a bill that would toughen the rules for public demonstrations in the capital.

The bill, submitted by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, would require organizers of rallies of more than 5,000 people or rallies planned for more than one venue to obtain permission from City Hall. Previously, organizers had to seek approval from district administrations.

An opposition City Duma deputy warned that the bill, if made law, would allow City Hall to prohibit all unwanted demonstrations.

"The only aim of this bill is to toughen the rules for organizing any demonstration in the city," Yabloko Deputy Yevgeny Bunimovich said Thursday. "There is an absurd panic in this country about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and authorities are seeking ways to prevent it from happening in Russia."

The mass rallies of last year's Orange Revolution after a fraudulent presidential election swept pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko into power.

Boris Nadezhdin, the deputy leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, said the proposed changes would increase the amount of red tape rally organizers have to maneuver through.

"It is one thing is to have to deal with district administrations, but a completely different thing to deal with the Moscow government," he said.

"Moscow authorities are simply getting ready for the elections. They want to have control of any demonstrations that take place in the city."

State Duma elections are scheduled for fall 2007, while the presidential election is set for spring 2008.

But City Duma Deputy Vitaly Kovalyovsky, an independent who is sponsoring the bill, defended it as an attempt to bring municipal law in line with a federal law on rallies that was approved last year. "We are just trying to bring a bit of order to the city law," he said.

Bunimovich said City Hall should have drawn up rules holding district administrations responsible for the rally permits they authorize rather than shifting their authority to City Hall.

"It is absurd that a small bureaucrat from a district administration has the right to give a permit to stage fascist marches in the capital," he said.

City Hall has come under fire after scores of nationalists and skinheads were allowed to march through the city center in November. The permit for the demonstration was issued by the administration of the central district. The same administration later rejected a request to hold an anti-fascist march organized by Yabloko and other liberal groups.

Yabloko deputy leader Sergei Mitrokhin said the new bill was unlikely to change anything.

"District administrations are under the control of City Hall. They cannot decide anything by themselves," he said.

The outgoing 35-member City Duma passed the bill in a first reading Wednesday. A date has not been set for the second reading, but Bunimovich said the new Duma, which was elected Dec. 4, was likely to consider the bill in January.

City authorities prohibited all demonstrations from Nov. 27 through Dec. 6, saying they were concerned about a possible terrorist attack. Opposition politicians accused authorities of trying to prevent possible rallies over the City Duma elections.