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Prolonging power: Vladimir Putin could seek to be elected twice more. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Prolonging power: Vladimir Putin could seek to be elected twice more. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

AP

Prolonging power: Vladimir Putin could seek to be elected twice more. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

The Russian parliament has approved the final constitutional reform to allow president Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024.

Kremlin critics condemned the move as a cynical manipulation and called for protests.

The Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, endorsed a set of amendments to the constitution and a provision resetting the term count for Mr Putin after the revised constitution goes into force. It passed by a 383-0 vote with 43 abstentions, and was approved by the upper house, the Federation Council. A nationwide vote on the amendments is set for April 22.

Mr Putin has ruled Russia for more than 20 years. After serving for two consecutive four-year terms - a limit outlined in the current version of the constitution - Mr Putin shifted to prime minister's seat in 2008, with his close ally Dmitry Medvedev becoming a placeholder president.

The length of the presidency was extended to six years under Mr Medvedev, and in 2012 Mr Putin returned to the Kremlin as president. In 2018, he was re-elected for another six years. The constitutional reform passed by the Duma yesterday would allow Mr Putin to run for presidency two more times after 2024. Before the national vote, it will be reviewed by Russia's Constitutional Court.

The changes redistribute the executive powers of the Russian government in Moscow and further strengthen the power of the presidency, while also banning same-sex marriage and listing "a belief in God" as one of Russia's traditional values.

The move prompted immediate calls for protests. On Tuesday night, about 200 people gathered near the Kremlin and lined up to hold solo pickets - the only form of protest in Russia legal without prior authorisation from the government - against the reform.

"It was clear from the start that it is being done to keep Putin in power forever," said opposition activist Alexei Miniaylo.

Two opposition groups called for a bigger rally in Moscow on March 21 or March 22 and applied for authorisation with the city authorities. Soon after, Moscow City Hall banned outdoor events with attendance of more than 5,000 until April 10, saying it was part of precautionary steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Activists remained unfazed, however, and yesterday refiled their requests, amending the maximum number of participants from 50,000 to 4,500.

"Our position is that if the coronavirus is such a dangerous threat, then they should cancel the vote (on the constitutional reform)," said Mikhail Svetov, leader of the Civil Society movement.

"If it is not that dangerous, then rallies should be allowed."

Irish Independent