MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has rescinded a blanket ban on demonstrations in and around the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi.
An order published on the Kremlin's website Saturday says that meetings, gatherings, demonstrations, marches and picketing that is not connected with the games may be held in places or along routes approved by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the country's police.
Putin last year ordered a ban on any demonstrations in Sochi not connected with the games from Jan. 7 to March 21. The move was widely criticized by human rights organizations.
Although the Saturday order lifts the blanket ban, Russian authorities generally are stingy about granting rally permission to opposition groups and critics.
International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach said last month that Russia had promised to set up public protest zones in Sochi. It was not clear if the order published Saturday envisioned limiting demonstrations to such zones.
"We welcome this announcement — it is in line with the assurances that President Putin gave us last year and part of the Russian authorities' plans to ensure free expression during the games while delivering safe and secure Games," Mark Adams, a spokesman for the IOC.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Saturday appeared to indicate that protests would be allowed only in one place.
"The organizers of the Olympic Games together with the leaders of the Krasnodar Region and Sochi City Hall have been ordered by the president to choose a square in the city where rallies, demonstrations and other events — including of a protest character where necessary — could be held freely," Peskov was quoted as saying by the R-Sport news agency.