Putin bans rallies in Sochi near the 2014 Olympics

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President
Vladimir Putin has signed a decree
banning demonstrations and rallies for
two and a half months in Sochi around the
2014 Winter Olympics.
The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official
government newspaper, published the
presidential decree Friday, listing an array
of measures tightening security in the
Olympic host city, including the ban on
public assemblies. All "gatherings, rallies,
demonstrations, marches and pickets" that
are not part of the Olympics or the
Paralympics will be prohibited in Sochi
from Jan. 7 to March 21, the decree said.
The Winter Olympics is taking place Feb.
7-23 in the Black Sea resort, and the
Paralympics are being held March 7-16.
Government-imposed protest bans across
entire cities where Olympics are held are
unusual. Putin's decree could be aimed at
heading off demonstrations against
Russia's ban on alleged gay propaganda, a
new law that has been sharply criticized in
the West.
Among other measures in the decree are
restrictions on vehicles entering Sochi.
Only cars with local license plates,
emergency vehicles and those accredited
by the Olympic organizers will be allowed
to enter the host city between Jan. 7 and
March 21.
Rights organizations have voiced concerns
about what they described as the
"harassment and intimidation of civil
society" advocates in Sochi. Human Rights
Watch said in a statement that
environmental, human rights and other
activists have been "the targets of attacks,
detention for peaceful protests and police
searches."
The International Olympic Committee
received a letter Thursday from Russian
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving
assurances that the host country will
comply with the Olympic Charter's
provision against discrimination of any
kind. The letter, however, defended
Russia's new anti-gay law and said it
would be enforced.
International Olympic Committee
President Jacques Rogge said Friday that
he is "comforted" by Russia's assurance
the charter's ban on discrimination will be
respected.
"We are going to inform now all the
national Olympic committees and all the
athletes who want to have clarity," Rogge
told reporters after addressing the U.N.
General Assembly.
Gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev told The
Associated Press on Friday that he would
petition the Supreme Court next week to
contest the presidential decree banning
rallies in Sochi as "violating our right of
freedom of assembly."
Russian authorities have repeatedly denied
gay activists' applications to set up a Pride
House in Sochi during the games, but
Alexeyev said he would apply for
permission to hold a gay pride rally in
Sochi on the opening day of the games
anyway.