Russian Communists block speaker on law bid


MOSCOW, AP

Russia’s parliament gave preliminary approval to limited land sales on Friday after Communists swarmed the podium and chanted “shame, shame” to stop a Cabinet minister from speaking in favor of the bill.

The uproar reflected fierce controversy raging over the buying and selling of land almost 10 years after the end of Russia’s communist era, when private ownership of land was forbidden.

Communists and their allies clustered around the podium, forcing Trade and Economics Minister German Gref, an advocate of the government’s proposal to permit sales of non-farm land, to speak from the government box over the floor of the State Duma lower house.

Gref, gamely speaking over Communist chants and pounding on desks, said that “society want us to discuss this bill … The right to private property in land is the whole foundation of building the Russian economy.”

The Communists walked out, ending the stormy debate, and the measure passed with the support of pro-Kremlin parties on the first of three required readings. The vote was 251-22, with 226 votes required for passage in the 450-member house.

Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said President Vladimir Putin, who is currently in Shanghai, had phoned him and promised to consult with deputies over the final shape of the bill as it is amended on subsequent readings.

Most Russian land remains in the hands of the government, as it was during Soviet times when Communist ideology demanded that the state own the means of economic production, including land.

The 1993 Russian Constitution gives people the right to buy and sell land, but laws to implement the right have been firmly blocked by Communists and their allies.

The government is trying again with a new land code watered down to leave out farmland. There were varying estimates of how much land would be affected by the bill, with some officials saying 3 percent, others 10 percent. The code would set up legal procedures for land sales, including a system of registering deeds.

At least two deputies got into a shoving match on the Duma floor. Some 500 protesters waved signs outside the lower house or State Duma, blocking traffic in front of the building.