Putin signs new law decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence

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MOSCOW, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a new law easing some penalties for domestic violence, a move which has alarmed women's rights campaigners who fear it will encourage abuse.

The law reduces battery of a relative to a civil offense instead of a criminal one in first instances, when the victim suffered no serious harm.

Those who support new legislation, including members of Putin's United Russia party, say they want to protect parents' right to discipline their children and to reduce the state's ability to meddle in family life. They say anyone who inflicts serious physical harm will still be criminally liable.

But critics say the move is a step backwards which will exonerate "tyrants in the home" and discourage victims from reporting abuse.

Each year, about 14,000 women die in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

In a statement on its website, the Kremlin said Putin had signed the law after it was approved by both chambers in Russia's parliament. The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, passed the bill in January in its second of three readings by 385 votes to two.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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