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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

Russian President Vladimir Putin has eased protest restrictions in Sochi.

MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Russian President Vladimir Putin has eased restrictions on protests in and around the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics and Paralympics will be held next month, but concerns remain whether local residents complaining about construction can hold rallies.

The Kremlin said in a statement that gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets not connected with the Olympic Games may be held in places or along routes approved by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the country’s police.

President Vladimir Putin amended his security decree after campaign groups had complained that a ban on rallies, established as part of a security crackdown, violated the constitution.

The International Olympic Committee welcomed Putin’s move to allow demonstrations. But it remains unclear whether Saturday’s decision will really help impoverished villagers in the area to express their grievances.


Advocacy group Human Rights Watch is concerned. Its associate Europe and Central Asia director, Jane Buchanan, says Russia’s 50 billion dollar project has had incredibly negative effects on people’s properties and livelihoods.

“People in other parts of Sochi […] have also suffered really negative impacts as a result of Olympic construction, whether it was people being forcibly evicted, or people whose homes were severely compromised by landslides from Olympic construction or Olympic highways being built through their backyards”, she said.

“And what we have seen over and over again is that the government hasn’t taken sufficient steps to ensure people’s relocation or compensation for these harms”, Buchanan added.

Residents and investigators say Olympic construction has left the mountain village of Akhshtyr without a reliable water supply for more than five years, and has cut residents off from public transportation and other services.


Additionally, they can no longer sell their fruit and vegetables due to pollution linked to construction. “When the Olympics started, and construction began, we had hope”, said Akhstyr resident Alexander Koropov.

“And the president said that no one would suffer because of the construction, but what’s happened is that the whole village has suffered”, he noted.

President Putin did not visit the village on Friday. Instead the Russian leader toured Sochi ski slopes, to show he remains in control following two suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd.

The attacks were linked to independence-seeking Islamic militants who oppose the Olympic Games, which are viewed as a signature project of Putin’s presidency.

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