11 June 2004 -- Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed today a government-sponsored bill that makes it more difficult for nongovernmental groups to call for a referendum.
The State Duma passed the bill with a 355-93 vote on its third and final reading. It must still be approved by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
The bill requires that initiative groups of more than 100 people must be registered in at least half of Russia's 89 regions to sponsor a referendum. They must also collect 2 million signatures within 45 days, reduced from three months in earlier legislation.
Opposition parties and human rights activists say the measure makes it virtually impossible for groups without government ties to organize referenda.