Russia to Rethink Pro-Democracy Party Ban After Clinton Concern

Russia said it may reconsider a ban on an opposition pro-democracy grouping running in December parliamentary polls after criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Party of People’s Freedom, or Parnas, can reapply for registration if it corrects its original application, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website today.

President Dmitry Medvedev said the party can run in the elections if it removes “dead souls” from its membership, in a meeting with reporters from the state-controlled Moskovskiye Novosti, according to the daily’s website. The Justice Ministry said yesterday that it had refused to register the party because it violated federal rules, including by submitting names of registered members who are deceased.

Western governments have regularly expressed concern about a rollback of post-Soviet freedoms since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

Clinton said yesterday the U.S. was “troubled” and “disappointed” in the decision to bar Parnas. She noted “reports of pressure from authorities designed to intimidate Parnas supporters, prompting them to resign positions or disavow their signatures on required lists.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. believes many of the “irregularities” cited by Russian authorities are “minor administrative errors.”

‘Taking a Risk’

Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister during Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency and is part of Parnas, accused Putin of personally blocking the party from running in the vote. “He’s obviously afraid of taking a risk,” he said in a statement on his website yesterday.

Kasyanov, together with Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister under the late President Boris Yeltsin, and two other opposition figures, said they will use a popular vote to select a joint candidate for the presidential election in March.

Kasyanov, 53, was disqualified from running in the 2008 presidential election, when Putin’s approved candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, won with more than 70 percent of the vote. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov received 17.7 percent. In 2004, the leading pro-democracy candidate, Irina Khakamada, won 3.9 percent of the vote.

Putin, 58, relinquished the presidency to Medvedev in 2008 because the constitution prohibits three consecutive terms. He hasn’t ruled out running for president next year.

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