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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bill Bans Election-Time Rallies

A group of mostly United Russia deputies has submitted a bill to the State Duma that would allow authorities to bar public gatherings and marches two weeks before and after elections.

Public Chamber members sharply criticized the bill Friday, and presidential administration deputy head Vyacheslav Surkov promised later in the day that the bill would be softened.

The bill apparently is the latest attempt to make sure that Russia will not follow in the path of Georgia and Ukraine, which saw regime changes brought on by massive protests over fraudulent elections.

Under the bill -- a copy of which was posted on the Duma's web site Thursday -- authorities would be able to ban a rally or march if they had "sufficient and preliminarily confirmed" information about planned illegal actions that might take place during the event.

The bill says authorities must first seek court confirmation that any violations of the law are being planned.

Italy, Germany, Denmark and the Baltic countries have similar clauses in their laws, the bill notes.

It also calls for people convicted of extremism or officially warned by the authorities for extremist activities to be prohibited from holding public gathering.

The bill, submitted to the Duma on Wednesday, is authored by four United Russia deputies, Igor Lebedev from the Liberal Democratic Party and Gennady Seleznev, an independent.

The head of the Public Chamber's commission for tolerance and freedom of conscience, Valery Tishkov, demanded on Friday that the bill be sent to the chamber for evaluation. "It is not at all clear why there is such a rush with a bill that clearly touches all of society," he told Interfax.

Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer who heads the chamber's commission for public oversight over law enforcement bodies, questioned the wording of the bill. "Such terms like 'sufficient and preliminarily confirmed information' cannot be the basis for a decision by executive bodies to ban rallies or marches," he told reporters.

Surkov, believed to be the Kremlin's chief political strategist, told Gazeta.ru late Friday that the bill would be made softer, without elaborating. Surkov spoke after discussing the Duma's plans for the spring session with Speaker Boris Gryzlov and the deputy speakers from United Russia, Vyacheslav Volodin and Oleg Morozov.

After the regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, the Duma has adopted a raft of legislation that critics say undercuts the opposition and makes it more difficult to stage protests.

Two political analysts said the latest bill is excessive, given the lack of political activism in Russia and the weakness of the opposition.

"This creativity of United Russia's lawmakers looks more like an attempt to win another pat on the head from the Kremlin for nothing," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank.

"This is a clear indication that the Kremlin is also nervous before elections," said Sergei Mikheyev of the Center for Political Technologies.

Duma elections are slated for December, and the presidential vote is scheduled for March 2008.

Eduard Limonov, leader of the unregistered opposition National Bolshevik Party, known for staging theatrical public protests, said Friday that the legislation could not stop his followers.

"We will be on the streets in December this year and next March, ban or no ban," he said.