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Russian Constitutional Amendments Spark Protests, Police Detentions


The protests were sparked by an amendment setting Russian President Vladimir Putin's previous presidential term count back to zero because of the other sweeping changes to the constitution. (file photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Police in St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities have detained activists during and ahead of protests against sweeping constitutional amendments that open the possibility for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power for another 16 years.

The March 12 demonstrations were held while local lawmakers discussed the amendments, a day after parliament's two chambers both overwhelmingly approved the changes.

In St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, an RFE/RL correspondent reported that police had detained two activists of the Peaceful Resistance group.

Dmitry Negodin and Yevgeny Musin rallied in front of the Legislative Assembly with posters urging local lawmakers to reject the amendments.

Two female protesters, Olga Smirnova and Marina Ken, were also detained.

Earlier, a coordinator with the opposition organization Open Russia, Sergei Kuzin, another member of the group, Larisa Kucherova, and municipal lawmaker Vasily Kunin, were held by police as they tried to leave their apartments.

In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, police detained the local leader of the opposition Yabloko party, Sergei Khorenzhenko, as well as activists Sergei Tiunov and Yelena Pary while they were protesting in the city center.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and arrests in Russia, said one activist, Sergei Ryabov, was detained in front of the Tula city parliament.

Two other protesters, Alik Shashayev and Azamat Shormanov, were detained in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria, it said.

The protests were sparked by an amendment setting Putin's previous presidential term count back to zero because of the other sweeping changes to the constitution.

Putin's current term, his second consecutive six-year term, was slated to end in 2024. The previous rules forbade him from running for a third consecutive mandate, but that changes with the provisions of the amendments, meaning he can seek a fifth overall presidential term in 2024, and conceivably a sixth in 2030.

The constitutional changes now must be approved by at least two-thirds of regional parliaments and confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Final approval will come if more than half of the country's voters support it in an April 22 referendum.

Putin, a 67-year old former KGB officer, has ruled Russia as a president or prime minister for more than 20 years.

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