Published : 2013-12-11 19:21
Updated : 2013-12-11 19:21
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) ― IOC president Thomas Bach said Russia will set up public protest zones in Sochi during the Winter Olympics, a move unlikely to defuse criticism of the country’s human rights record and a recent law banning gay “propaganda.”
With the opening ceremony less than two months away, Bach said Sochi organizers notified him of the decision during their report to the International Olympic Committee executive board on Tuesday.
Bach, chairing his first board meeting since being elected president in September, said the Russians would establish specially designated zones for “people who want to express their opinion or want to demonstrate for or against something.”
Bach said he didn’t have any details on where the protest zones would be located or how they would be managed during the games, which run from Feb. 7-23.
“This is a measure we welcome, so that everybody can express his or her free opinion,” he said at a news conference.
The decision to open protest zones comes amid continuing Western condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s record on human rights and the law banning promotion of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.
In August, Putin signed a decree banning “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” for 2 1/2 months in Sochi around the Olympics and Paralympics. The ban is to take effect Jan. 7, a month before the start of the games and runs until March 21.
Putin’s decree appeared aimed at heading off demonstrations against the anti-gay law. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where China came under scrutiny for its human rights record and policy on Tibet, officially sanctioned protest zones were located miles from venues and were unused.