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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 13:48 GMT
Groups condemn Russian NGOs law
Vladimir Putin
President Putin's signing of the bill was not announced
Russian and international rights groups have criticised a new Russian law on non-governmental organisations, which they say will stifle civil society.

The law was signed by President Vladimir Putin last week but not made public until Tuesday - prompting claims the government tried to keep it quiet.

Amnesty International and others say it gives the authorities too much power to decide which groups can operate.

Russian officials say it is designed to bolster Russia's national security.

The new law was amended after heavy criticism by Western governments and international organisations, but Russian officials regularly accuse the West of using NGOs to try to undermine Russia.

No change

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the law would not bring any "dramatic changes" to NGO activities.

It gives the authorities wide-ranging powers to monitor the activities and finances of non-governmental organisations.

The new powers include the right to suspend NGOs, should they threaten Russia's sovereignty or independence.

Groups such as Amnesty International deny interfering in Russia's internal affairs, saying Russia must respect the various international human rights standards it has committed itself to.

But BBC Russian affairs analyst Steven Eke says that is not the sort of language the Kremlin wants to hear.

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