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Putin bans rallies in Sochi near the 2014 Olympics; could be heading off protests about anti-gay law

BY NATALIYA VASILYEVA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning demonstrations and rallies for two and a half months in Sochi around the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, published the presidential decree Friday, listing an array of measures tightening security in the Olympic host city, including the ban on public assemblies. All "gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets" that are not part of the Olympics or the Paralympics will be prohibited in Sochi from Jan. 7 to March 21, the decree said.

The Winter Olympics is taking place Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort, and the Paralympics are being held March 7-16.

Government-imposed protest bans across entire cities where Olympics are held are unusual. Putin's decree could be aimed at heading off demonstrations against Russia's ban on alleged gay propaganda, a new law that has been sharply criticized in the West.

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