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Two election law protesters detained near Kremlin

MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti) - Two participants in an unauthorized picket on a bridge across the Mosvka River opposite the Kremlin have been detained, city police said Thursday.

A young man and a girl, who used climbing gear to display a banner reading "Bring Back Elections," were taken to a local police station where they will be charged with an administrative offense, a police spokesman said.

A bill scrapping the minimum voter turnout requirement was passed by State Duma lawmakers last Friday. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov challenged parts of the bill, while Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov called it dubious.

The press service of the opposition Yabloko party said Ilya Yashin, leader of the Yabloko youth wing, and Maria Gaidar, coordinator of the liberal youth Yes! movement, as well as the daughter of former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, took part in the action.

The new legislation, which would abolish the 20% minimum voter turnout requirement and ban negative campaigning on television, along with absentee ballots, is sponsored by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

Veshnyakov said it would be premature to abolish the bottom limit for voter turnout, but spoke in favor of other changes proposed in the bill.

"The prospective changes include some positive, indisputable proposals, but there are objectionable proposals as well, ones that could be called premature. The decision to remove the voter turnout threshold is among those I consider to be premature," he said.

Veshnyakov said that in the future, the turnout minimum could be reduced to 5%, but not lower.

The Federation Council speaker objected to the idea of scrapping the turnout threshold, and was equally critical of the idea to ban negative campaigning.

Mironov described as "dubious" arguments made by the bill's backers, who "believe it is unacceptable that a party with no realistic chance of making it into the State Duma gets registered, and runs a campaign only to sling mud at everyone."

The top election official said, however, that the bill would not compromise Russia's ability to hold free and fair elections.

But leaders of the Duma's Communist Party faction launched harsher criticism against the proposals.

"This will be the final blow from the incumbent government, one that will render the term 'election system' utterly meaningless," said Ivan Melnikov, the deputy chairman of the party's Central Committee.

With the threshold scrapped, "the State Duma would reflect the position of 'ballot-casting individuals,' not the will of society," he said.

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