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MOSCOW - Lawmakers moved to clamp down on foreign funded groups Wednesday amid growing Kremlin unease with organizations that promote human rights and democracy. Critics called it an effort by President Vladimir Putin to broaden his power.
The controversial proposal to severely restrict foreign-funded nongovernment organizations gained approval in the Russian parliament's lower house on the first of three readings.
The bill requires local branches of foreign NGOs to reregister as Russian entities subject to stricter financial and legal restrictions. It also further increases government control of NGOs, allowing official oversight of their finances and activities.
Foreign-funded groups say the bill, approved by a 370-18 margin, could effectively terminate their Russian operations if it is eventually enacted.
"The express purpose of this law is to emasculate the NGO community," said Holly Cartner, regional director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The group said the bill would "eviscerate" civil society in Russia if passed.
The Kremlin has shown increasing displeasure with nonprofit groups that criticize the government and advocate democracy. Such groups played significant roles in the mass demonstrations that brought opposition leaders to power in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.