Russia will allow a long-barred liberal political party to participate in elections for the first time in five years, its former head, one of the leaders of protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule, said on Friday.
Vladimir Ryzhkov said the Justice Ministry had given the Republican Party permission to register after a long court battle that began when it lost its legal status in 2007 as then-President Putin tightened his grip on electoral politics.
Faced with protests by tens of thousands of Russians asking for a stronger political voice, Putin has rejected demonstrators' demands for a rerun of a December's parliamentary election marred by fraud allegations.
However, he promised modest electoral reforms as he prepares to return to the presidency for a six-year term in May, including easing registration requirements to enable more parties to contest elections.
"This is a victory for common sense and justice," Ryzhkov, a former parliamentary deputy, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
He said the party planned to contest regional elections later this year.
Ryzhkov led the Republican Party until it was barred from re-registering on the grounds that it fell short of size requirements, a rule that Kremlin opponents say has been used to sideline opposition groups.
The Republican Party was always a small force but its members had a dozen parliamentary seats in the early 1990s which it gradually lost during Putin's first term as president.
Only one new party has been registered since a 2007 election to the State Duma, the lower parliament house, in which Putin's United Russia party increased its sway.
United Russia held a two-thirds majority in the Duma until the vote last December, in which it lost dozens of seats despite allegations of fraud in its favour.
Last April, the Republican Party won a European Court of Human Rights ruling which found a Russian Supreme Court decision to bar the party unlawful.
Opposition leaders hope to gain a foothold in regional and municipal elections but largely dismiss the promised political reforms as window-dressing and believe Putin will hold tight to his dominance of politics.
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