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MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned protests in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next year and ordered severely restricted access to the city, according to an decree published Friday.
The presidential decree published in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta imposes special zones on the territory of Sochi "in order to reinforce security" during the Games in the Black Sea resort in February.
It designates the Olympic venues, transport terminals, and special road checkpoints as "controlled zones" where all people and belongings will be searched.
The document also imposes a vast "forbidden zone" with restricted access, and bans all cars from Sochi unless the vehicles have special accreditation or are locally owned.
The decree also prohibits any public demonstrations "not related to the holding the Olympic Games" in the area in the period from January 7 to March 21, 2014.
The move was immediately denounced by activists as unconstitutional as something that could be used to justify the dispersal by police of any protests.
The document also bans car crossing of the border to Georgia's rebel territory of Abkhazia, which lies several kilometres from the Olympic Park.
The "forbidden zone" measures impact not just the Olympic venues, but a large part of the greater Sochi area.
The strict measures immediately caused an outcry, including from gay activists who planned to stage protests against Russia's ban on "gay propaganda", a controversial law that has prompted calls to boycott the event altogether.
"The president's decree on a rally moratorium in Sochi during the Olympics is unconstitutional," gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter. "There still will be a gay pride parade."
"Did the president impose the state of emergency in Sochi?" tweeted human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov.
"Putin's decree has turned Sochi-2014 into Moscow-1980," independent Dozhd television channel said.
It was referring to the unprecedented measures during the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, when entry to the capital was restricted while people deemed anti-social, including those with criminal records and dissidents, were deported.
Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games from February 7 to February 23 and Paralympics from March 7 to March 16. However the event has already been mired in controversy over property rights, environment, corruption, and most recently gay rights issues.