Olympics

Putin bans rallies in Sochi

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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.

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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 in the Black Sea resort from Feb. 7-23 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 were 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 earlier 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.

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.

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