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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 24, 2011

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TODAY: Putin’s journalist foe is beaten; Gates finds Putin curious; Duma votes overwhelmingly for Libya ceasefire; human bots and ‘extremism’-monitoring software; Belarus and Kyrgyzstan need Russia; new law will limit independent candidates in regions; IOC head dispels fears about schedule; Medvedev meets Deep Purple.
Sergei Topol, the reporter responsible for the stories alleging that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was having an affair with gymnast Alina Kabayeva, has suffered a concussion after being beaten outside his apartment in Moscow – just six months after journalist Oleg Kashin was beaten into a coma.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he was ‘a little curious, frankly, about the tone that has been taken‘ by Putin in his criticism of military intervention in Libya.  Meanwhile the lower house of the State Duma has passed a resolution by 350:32 calling for a ceasefire.  If Putin returns to the Presidency in 2012, he will turn Russia into an autocracy, comparable to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, says Freedom House.

Are the Russian authorities hiring ‘human bots, online contributors who comment on articles that are critical of the ruling classes?  Roskomnadzor wants to create an automated software system to monitor internet forums for ‘extremism‘.  The health of Belarus’ economy is growing increasingly dependent on Russia, says Bloomberg. ‘Debts are piling up quickly; they’re just not sustainable. And at the moment Russia is the only country that is bailing Belarus out.‘  The Kyrgyz Prime Minister made a similar claim for his own country, referring to Russia’s ‘powerful‘ support of its economy, without which it would be facing ‘a precarious future‘. 
A new law to improve regional representation for political parties by banning majority voting for legislatures will damage independent candidates and limit voters’ options, say opposition members.  A bill on volunteer firefighting is going to ‘hamper volunteer efforts‘, according to environmental activists, by miring them with red tape.  The head of the International Olympic Committee has dispelled fears about the construction of venues for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, saying that the projects are proceeding according to plan.
[D]edicated rocker‘ President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Deep Purple (his favourite band) at his Moscow residence yesterday: ‘Of course when I started listening to Deep Purple I could not imagine that I would be sitting here with you at this table like this.‘  The President apparently used to organize ‘hard-rock discos‘ when he was a schoolboy.  A Gazprom-sponsored concert in Rome saw violinists playing on 16th, 17th and 18th century instruments from Moscow’s Museum of Musical Culture. 
PHOTO: Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lights a candle in St. Sava church in Belgrade March 23, 2011. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic (SERBIA – Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)