25 July, 2014 / Ramazan 26, 1435

MOSCOW: Russia's parliament on Friday expelled a lawmaker who turned against President Vladimir Putin, paving the way for similar action against others who have joined the opposition movement in a clear sign that the Kremlin is intensifying its crackdown on political dissent.

The 293-150 vote to expel Gennady Gudkov from the State Duma also removes his immunity from prosecution, and his supporters fear he could face arrest. Mr Gudkov, a KGB veteran like Mr Putin who once represented the main Kremlin party in parliament, helped stage a series of street protests against Mr Putin's rule last winter.

Mr Gudkov called the vote “political revenge and extrajudicial repression”, and described the accusations — that he was involved in a business in violation of parliament rules — as a sham.

The vote to expel Mr Gudkov came a day before the first major opposition rally after a summer break, a Kremlin signal to the opposition that it will take an increasingly tough line against dissent. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant, said it moved against Mr Gudkov out of fear that his example might encourage other members of the ruling elite to join the opposition.    Mr Gudkov's behaviour was like “a spectre of the split in the elite that the Kremlin is so afraid of”, Mr Pavlovsky said. “It scared them a lot.”    For most of the past decade, the State Duma — the lower house of parliament — has obediently rubber-stamped all Kremlin bills. Critics were tolerated because a solid pro-Kremlin majority could ensure the safe passage of any legislation.

Mr Gudkov, 56, was long part of that majority. He worked at the KGB from 1981-92, then continued his career in its main successor agency before becoming a lawmaker in 2001. He initially joined United Russia, the dominant Kremlin party, before moving in 2007 to Fair Russia, another Kremlin-created party that in recent years has begun to lean more towards the opposition.

Mr Gudkov was deputy chairman of the Duma’s security committee and enjoyed good relations with many senior officials in Russian police security agencies. But he has become increasingly critical of Kremlin policies in recent years, denouncing the government's inefficiency and official corruption.

A decisive moment came last fall when he surprisingly emerged at a giant opposition rally. The stout, moustached man cut a striking figure among young activists as he chanted “Putin, resign!” from the stage.  The backlash began after a May 6 rally on the eve of Mr Putin's inauguration for his third term as president. The protest ended in clashes between protesters and police.

Authorities soon launched an inspection of a private security firm that Mr Gudkov had set up when he left the security agency and revoked its license, citing purported irregularities.—AP

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