Putin Abandons Complete Ban on Protests at Sochi Winter Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, tries an Olympic volunteers uniform, visiting an equipment centre in Sochi on January 4, 2014. Photographer: Alexey Nikolsky/Ria Novosti/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin scrapped a total ban on protests during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which are a focus for gay rights activists.

Putin amended a decree from last August to allow demonstrations with police permission, the Kremlin said on its website today. The security rules apply from Jan. 7 to March 21, a month before the Feb. 7-23 Games start until after the Paralympics. Putin ordered the authorities to set aside a special venue for protests, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, according to the Interfax news service.

The Russian leader has made the Sochi Olympics a showcase for his country, which is allocating $48 billion to the event, the most ever spent on the Winter Games. Last month he pardoned jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky after 10 years in prison. Two members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot jailed for an anti-Putin protest were freed under an amnesty.

Gay rights activists plan to challenge Putin and pressure Olympic sponsors including Coca-Cola Co. by protesting a Russian ban on homosexual “propaganda” during the Sochi Games.

Putin is visiting Sochi this week to inspect the Olympic facilities after a pair of suicide bombings on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 killed more than 30 people in the southern city of Volgograd, 700 kilometers (435 miles) away.

The government will seal off Sochi, a city of 345,000 people, starting Jan. 7.

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