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Putin to allow Olympic protest zone in Sochi

Jan. 4, 2014 at 12:47 PM

MOSCOW, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Russian officials said pre-approved rallies may be held in a designated protest zone in Sochi, reversing an earlier ban on protests at the Winter Games.

Protests of any kind had been prohibited at the Olympics, but the Kremlin said Saturday a protest zone would be carved out in Sochi where demonstrations could be staged.

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Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said the Kremlin had ordered the city and Olympic organizers to "select a venue in the city where rallies, demonstrations and other events, including, if necessary, protests, could be freely held."

Rallies will have to be cleared in advance with security authorities from Jan. 7-March 21, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency said. China used a similar protest-zone strategy during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The move was seen by some analysts as a move to counter criticism of Putin's government from supporters of political reforms and homosexual rights, the BBC said.

Putin made the decision amid concerns that Islamic terrorists based in the Caucasus could try another attack on Sochi similar to the bombings in Volgograd in late December that killed 34 people.

Putin ordered a further tightening of security plans for the Olympics, which already include road closures and surveillance by unmanned drones.

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