World Bulletin / News Desk
The Russian version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia closed its site on Tuesday in a one-day protest against what it said were plans by President Vladimir Putin to create his own version of the "Great Chinese Firewall" to block dissent on the Internet.
Supporters of amendments to Russia's information law, which were proposed by the ruling United Russia party and will be discussed in parliament on Wednesday, say changes are needed to protect children from harmful sites.
But leaders of anti-Putin protests say the new law could shut down websites in Russia such as Facebook and Twitter without a court order and is meant to stop their opposition movement, which is organized via social networking sites.
"These amendments may become a basis for real censorship on the Internet - forming a list of forbidden sites and IP addresses," Russian Wikipedia said in a statement.
"The following provisions and wording undertaken for discussion would lead to the creation of a Russian equivalent of the 'Great Chinese Firewall' ... in which access to Wikipedia could soon be closed across the entire country."
The changes to the information law would give government officials power to request the closure of Internet pages without a court order simply by blacklisting them. China has some of the most effective methods of blocking dissent on the Internet, tightly controlling what can and cannot be viewed.
Under the changes proposed in Russia, if a website owner does not remove the content that is deemed inappropriate, access to the entire website in Russia can be blocked.
Opposition leaders and ordinary Russians have used Facebook, Twitter and Russian networking site Vkontakte to organize protests and distribute anti-Putin information since protests began over alleged violations in parliamentary elections last December.
"This is basically an attempt to infiltrate the opposition's last bastion - the Internet. It's an attempt to kill the protest movement which depends on the Internet. To me it spells out 'China' which looks like the direction in which we're heading," said opposition activist Natalia Pelevine.
OPPONENTS CRY FOUL
Since Putin returned to the presidency in May after four years as premier, parliament has rushed through legislation increasing fines for protesters who step out of line and is considering tighter rules for non-government organizations.
The opposition says the proposed changes in the law, and recent raids on the homes of protest organizers, are intended to stifle protests against Putin. The Kremlin denies this.
Internet sites provided the main platform for videos and photographs from bloggers illustrating alleged fraud in the December 4 election which gave Putin's United Russia party a majority in the State Duma lower house.
Russians see both houses of the legislative body as offering only token debate before bills are rubber stamped into law.
The OSCE representative on media freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, said the law could pave the way for a crackdown on media freedom.
"Any attempt to ban vaguely defined Internet content in a non-transparent manner will almost certainly lead to over-blocking and possibly censorship," Mijatović wrote in a letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and State Duma Chairman Sergei Naryshkin, the OSCE said.
Putin is widely seen as less enamoured of the Internet than his tech-savvy predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. The chief of Russia's Security Council has said foreign-based websites are being used to foment anti-Kremlin protests.
Russia's advisory human rights council has criticised the planned changes, saying "many well-intentioned Internet resources with legal content could suffer from massive blocking".
“We brought dolls to refer to the children of Gaza,” Neta Golan, a spokesperson for the group, told Anadolu Agency outside the court.
France, the Philippines and the U.S. also decided to pull out staff this week.
The United Nations relief agency’s Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl condemned the killing children in their sleep.
Separately, U.S. lawmakers were working in Congress to provide millions of dollars in additional funding for Israel's "Iron Dome" missile shield.
In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels.
To get aid into Gaza, Iran has to fly it to Egypt and then take it across the Rafah border crossing. The only other option would be to go through Israel, unthinkable for Iran.
A joint rescue team is searching for those missing after a fishing vessel capsized with 48 on board in North Sumatra.
It is likely that the losses sustained by Morganti Development LLC, which owns a stake in the Gaza power plant, will be paid for by U.S. taxpayers, who ironically also help fund the Israeli army.
Talks between Catalan President Artur Mas and Spanish Prime Minister Marianop Rajoy failed to produce any agreement but the region still plans to hold a vote in November.
President Juan Manuel Santos said guerrilla attacks on infrastructure could bring an end to peace negotiations.
Republicans have complained about other unilateral actions that Obama has taken to advance his agenda, from executive orders on immigration policy to same-sex partner benefits.
Brazil approves a record number of refugee applications - more in one day than the whole of 2013.
The protesters headed to the hospital soon after they wrapped up a demonstration in Benghazi's Independence Street in support of the Libyan army and against what they called "terrorism".
"The municipalities had to discharge wastewater into the sea without treatment, which might cause a major health crisis," Nazar Hegazi, head of Gaza municipality, said.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas' foreign relations chief, said lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has been in place since 2006, is the main demand of Hamas.
The Israeli army may substitute the new reservists with troops that are serving on the Gaza front now to give them some rest.