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Russia Starts Review Of Putin-Era NGO Restrictions


Deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov will oversee the review.

Deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov will oversee the review.

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The Kremlin is set to begin a review of restrictions imposed on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) during Vladimir Putin's presidency that rights groups decried as an assault on their work.

The review is the latest step by President Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin last year, which promises to strengthen civil society.

In 2006 Russia introduced a series of laws that it said were designed to stop terrorists, money launderers, and foreign spy groups using NGOs as cover.

But rights groups criticized them for being laden with unnecessary paperwork and for enabling the authorities to close down organizations.

On May 14 Medvedev's powerful first deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, will oversee a group of parliament deputies and NGO workers to review the NGO laws, said Ella Pamfilova, a leading rights figure who will take part in the discussions.

The talks will cover about a third of Russia's NGOs -- mainly groups that do not require paid membership. The group will report on its findings by the end of May.

"It's a potentially very important first step but it's also very important that civil society keep an eye on what emerges," said Allison Gill, director of the Moscow branch of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Russia grew wealthy under Putin's eight-year presidency, which came to an end last year, and the economy boomed on the back of sky-high commodity and energy prices.

But opposition groups say the prosperity came at the cost of weakened civil rights and democracy.
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