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Duma backs bill protecting Putin from prosecution when he leaves office

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Putin attends a meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.
Putin attends a meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.   -   Copyright  Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
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Russian deputies on Tuesday backed a draft law guaranteeing former presidents immunity from criminal prosecution, a moved that is widely believed will benefit Vladimir Putin.

The bill would mean presidents who were no longer in office and members of their family "cannot be brought to criminal or administrative responsibility, as well as detained, arrested, subjected to a search, interrogation, or body search."

"The ex-President's immunity extends to the residential and office premises he occupies, his vehicles, communications, documents and luggage belonging to him, to his correspondence," it added.

The lower house approved the amendment in its first reading and there is little chance it will not be fully adopted, as President Putin's backers dominate both houses.

After two further Duma readings, it will go to the Council of the Federation (upper house) and Putin himself to be approved.

Immunity could only be waived if the former president is accused of "treason or another serious crime, and if these charges are supported by the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and backed by two-thirds of the deputies of the State Duma and the same number of senators of the Council of the Federation".

The legislation forms part of constitutional amendments approved in a July referendum.

The amendments also allow Putin to run for two more 6-year terms in office — his fourth term is set to end in 2024.

Some commentators said the draft law had reignited questions over the president's future at the helm of Russian politics. Putin's approval ratings nosedived in 2019 after remaining above 80% in the five years leading up to this.

Pension reforms and a retirement age hike were pegged as two of the key reasons behind the mounting dissatisfaction.

The opposition in Russia hit out against the July amendments saying Putin aimed to stay in office for life, a claim which the president denies.