Controversial Moscow housing plan comes into force

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Controversial Moscow housing plan comes into force

Moscow (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed a controversial law authorising the demolition of several thousand Soviet-era Moscow apartment blocks and the relocation of their inhabitants.

The controversial urban redevelopment programme prompted an outcry in May when at least 5,000 angry protesters took to the streets, police said although organisers put the figure as high as 30,000.

The law was voted through the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, on June 14 and adopted by the upper chamber Federation Council on Wednesday, with the text officially published on Saturday.

Moscow and most other Russian cities have thousands of the prefab five-story buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Under a plan unveiled in February by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, more than 4,000 of these buildings are to be razed from September in a move which would force the relocation of hundreds of thousands of residents.

Supporters say the extensive $61-billion (56 billion euro) project would allow the replacement of these small, worn-out "khrushchevkas" with high-rise housing in a fast-developing city of 12 million gripped by a housing crunch and rising rents.

But the plans have angered many Muscovites who are fearful of losing their homes and who say it rides roughshod over their property rights.

Authorities initially wanted to demolish 8,000 buildings, but faced with widespread discontent, they reduced the scope of the project.

The state has pledged to rehouse residents in flats of an "equivalent" size -- not the same value -- in the same neighbourhood.

Before a building can be destroyed, officials must in theory have the agreement of the majority of residents.

Those slated for relocation will not be able to legally contest the eviction and will have just 60 days to move out.