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Putin protesters to face huge increase in court fines

The Russian parliament has approved a law that will drastically increase fines for people who take part in protests that violate public order in a bid to discourage dissent against the country's President, Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin's opponents say the Kremlin-backed bill, which now needs only his signature to go into force, will close avenues to peaceful protest and could radicalise the opposition movement.

The law will increase the maximum fine for the organisers of unsanctioned protests from 5,000 roubles (£100) to 1 million roubles (£20,000), and people who violate public order could face fines of up to 300,000 roubles (£6,000).

The Federation Council, the upper house, passed the legislation after a short debate yesterday by 132 votes to one, with one abstention. The only vote against came from the mother of Ilya Ponomarev, an opposition lawmaker in the lower chamber who has joined the protest movement. The State Duma, the lower house, had already given its approval on Tuesday.

The measure is widely seen as a response to a wave of anti-government protests that is intended to discourage further protests against Mr Putin, who has dominated Russia since 2000 and began a new six-year term as president last month.

The new law will also increase the minimum fine for violations of public order or city rules during demonstrations from 5,000 to 10,000 roubles (£200). Opposition leaders said the Kremlin was rushing the law through so that it could be in place before opposition demonstrations planned for next Tuesday.