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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senators Reluctantly Part With Privilege

Kremlin-backed bills usually win swift approval in the parliament, but legislation that would take away lawmakers' rights to breeze through Moscow's mind-boggling traffic by using special license plates ran into a bit of a bottleneck Wednesday.

It took two votes and some urging from fervently pro-Kremlin Speaker Sergei Mironov before the Federation Council passed a bill that would force lawmakers to remove license plates adorned with the Russian tricolor.

The bill, introduced by the United Russia party, appears aimed at soothing resentment of ordinary motorists over the special plates, flashing lights and sirens that give parking privileges to lawmakers, bureaucrats and government workers. The plates also allow them to ignore some of the rules of the road, muscling past other cars and zipping by traffic police untouched.

For people who battle the daily traffic snarl, the sight of an expensive car screaming down the middle of a two-way avenue -- or gunning by under escort as others wait -- underscores the deep divide between those in power and those without it. Not eager for relegation to the latter, senators rejected the bill in an initial vote. It won 88 votes, three shy of the number need for approval.

"I do not want to participate in a farce," Senator Valentin Zavadnikov said in televised comments.

"What kind of a senator can one be if one spends seven hours on the road every day?" said Alexander Suvorov, a legislator who said he knew one colleague whose commute takes at least that long.

In the State Duma, the bill won overwhelming support last week, and some Federation Council members denounced it as a public relations move by Duma deputies before elections later this year. The upper house is not popularly elected.

Suvorov expressed anger with what he suggested was a common sight: a car escorted by a "huge jeep with a siren" halting outside an upscale supermarket on a main road to Russia's richest suburbs, disgorging "some half-bigwig flanked by armed guards" who does his shopping and then gets back in and speeds away again.

Mironov agreed that the effort should be more wide ranging, but urged colleagues to "start with yourselves."

In a second ballot, the measure passed in a 113-2 vote with four abstentions, and now goes to President Vladimir Putin for his signature.

A council spokeswoman said the bill did not cover flashing lights and sirens, only license plates.

RIA-Novosti reported that a government order requires the number of cars that can be fitted with sirens from 7,500 to be decreased to fewer than 1,000 by next month.