- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — Police on Tuesday detained at least two dozen people protesting outside the Russian parliament as it debated a controversial bill that would raise fines 150-fold for people taking part in unsanctioned rallies.

The Kremlin party, which has a majority in the elected lower house, was trying to bring the bill to a final vote on Tuesday with the aim of getting it signed into law ahead of an opposition protest planned for June 12.

Opposition leaders say the law would exacerbate tensions in Russian society and leave the public with no free outlet for their discontent.

Since returning to the presidency in May, Vladimir Putin has taken a tougher line toward the opposition, whose protests over the winter drew tens of thousands onto the streets in an unprecedented challenge to his rule.

More than 20 activists, including the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, were detained Tuesday morning outside the State Duma for holding an unsanctioned gathering. Some of them were released shortly afterward.

The bill would see maximum fines for taking part in unsanctioned rallies go up from 2,000 rubles ($60) to 300,000 ($9,000). The Kremlin party, United Russia, originally proposed an increase to a whopping 1.5 million rubles ($45,000).

For public officials, the maximum fine would be raised to 600,000 rubles ($18,000).

Gennady Gudkov, a lawmaker with the opposition Fair Russia party, warned before the debate that the bill was dangerous.

“In the past, tightening the screws in Russia has only caused bloodshed. This is a sure path to a civil war,” he said, addressing the Duma.

“You’re assuming responsibility for the country’s future and pushing it toward a crisis, collapse and bloodshed.”

United Russia controls 237 of the State Duma’s 450 seats, making approval of the bill almost certain. But Fair Russia has submitted nearly 400 amendments to the proposed bill in hopes of wearing out its supporters.

“Don’t torment us! The Duma is tired,” lawmaker Alexei Mitrofanov, who supports the bill, said shortly before the lunch break.

The bill still will need to be approved by the upper house and signed by Mr. Putin, but both steps are formalities.

Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.

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