- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday targeted those who dare to oppose him, introducing draconian new fines for protesters and handing out Kremlin jobs to widely detested lieutenants despite the public anger they have generated.

A new law introducing a 200-fold increase in fines for taking part in unsanctioned protests was given preliminary approval by the Kremlin-controlled lower house, setting the stage for toughening Mr. Putin’s crackdown on dissent.

Opposition lawmakers denounced the new fines as an attempt to stifle criticism, warning that it would fuel broad outrage and destabilize Russia by depriving the public of a way to express discontent.

Some warned that it may stop the middle class from protesting in Moscow but would fail to stem likely outbursts of anger against a series of planned reforms that would raise energy prices and cut social benefits.

Sergei Mironov, leader of the opposition Just Russia party, said his faction was boycotting the hearings of the “odious” bill intended to “shut the people’s mouth.”

Police on Tuesday quickly rounded up several members of the liberal Yabloko party who attempted to protest the new bill outside parliament.

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin told reporters before being detained by police that the law was intended to intimidate the opposition.

“A direct signal is being made by those in power: Sit down and keep quiet!” Mr. Mitrokhin said.

The lower house, dominated by Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, voted 236-207 with one abstention to approve the bill in the first of three required readings.

Mr. Putin has toughened his stance against the opposition since winning a third term in the March election, rejecting a dialogue with its leaders and stonewalling their demands.

Last week, he gave a senior government job to a tank factory worker who had offered to come to Moscow with colleagues to help police break up protests against the government.

Mr. Putin named his new Cabinet on Monday, retaining some key figures but dropping some of the most widely detested ministers, including Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova and Education Minister Andrei Fursenko.

But that didn’t mean Mr. Nurgaliyev was out of work. Showing his contempt for opposition criticism, Mr. Putin appointed Mr. Nurgaliyev as an undersecretary to the Presidential Security Council and named several other former ministers as presidential advisers.

Mr. Nurgaliyev has faced massive public outrage over widespread torture and other abuses by police, while Messrs. Golikova and Fursenko have been linked to the worsening state of the nation’s health care and education systems.

Another longtime Putin aide, former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, was put in charge of Russia’s largest oil company, the state-controlled Rosneft, while Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov got the same job in the Kremlin.

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