Putin eases curbs on protests in Sochi for Olympics
By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has eased curbs on demonstrations in the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi in a gesture likely to burnish Russia's image ahead of an event dogged by security and human rights worries.
Keenly aware that the success or failure of the Games will help shape his legacy, Putin has closely identified himself with the $50 billion project. He made a surprise inspection of venues in the Black Sea resort on Friday and was shown on Russian state television skiing down a slope in dark glasses and a helmet.
Putin, who on Saturday attended a rehearsal of the Games' opening ceremony in Sochi, amended a decree to allow groups to hold some marches and gatherings at sites approved by the security services, the Kremlin said in a statement.
"Gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets, which are not directly connected to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could be staged on January7-March 21 2014... only after agreeing with... a local security body," it said.
Campaign groups, calling for everything from gay rights to political reform, have complained that the ban on rallies, imposed in August as part of a security crackdown, violated Russia's own constitution.
Putin's move came shortly after he ordered a further security clampdown following two suicide bomb attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd which killed at least 34 people.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but they were a reminder of the continuing threat posed by militants who want to carve an Islamic state out of a swath of southern Russia that includes Sochi.
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