Virus Outbreak Russia

An employee disinfects in the Botanical Garden in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin on Tuesday that the low number could reflect insufficient screening in Russia rather than the actual scale of the outbreak and said the situation was "serious." For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Citing the Coronavirus, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday postponed a nationwide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that include a change potentially allowing him to stay in office until 2036.

Putin didn’t set a new date for the plebiscite, which was originally scheduled for April 22, saying that it would depend on how the pandemic develops in Russia. The country reported its first two deaths from the virus on Wednesday.

He also announced during a televised address to the nation that the government doesn’t want Russians to go to work next week, except for those in essential sectors. Stores, pharmacies and banks will stay open, he said.

“Health, life and safety of the people is an absolute priority for us,” Putin said. “That is why I believe that the vote should be postponed. We will set a new date for the vote based exclusively on professional opinion and advice from doctors and experts.”

Under the current law, Putin wouldn’t be able to run for president again in 2024 because of term limits. A new measure would reset his term count, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms if he chooses.

The 67-year-old Putin has been in power since 2000, longer than any other ruler in the country since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Other constitutional changes further strengthen the presidency and emphasize the priority of Russian law over international norms — a provision reflecting the Kremlin’s irritation with the European Court of Human Rights and other international bodies that have often issued verdicts against Russia.

There also are proposed amendments to outlaw same-sex marriage and to mention “a belief in God” as one of Russia’s traditional values.

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