By Karolos Grohmann
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The city of Sochi will have specific protest zones for demonstrators to air their views when it hosts the 2014 winter Olympics in February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was told on Tuesday.
"We welcome the announcement of the (Sochi) organizing committee that in Sochi there will be protest zones that will be established for people who want to demonstrate against something," IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters after a progress report by the Russian Games organizers.
"They (protesters) will have the opportunity to do so in special protest zones," he said.
Russia has been under mounting criticism over its human rights record, especially this year after passing an anti-gay propaganda law which critics say curtails the rights of homosexuals.
"This was under discussion with the IOC for quite some time," Bach said. "It was announced to us today and it (zones) will be located in Sochi."
Protest zones were also created during the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but were located away from the venues and hardly used.
For Sochi, however, it is unclear how such protests could take place given the Russian Black Sea resort will be all but locked down for the Olympics for security reasons.
Russia faces security challenges because the city is next to the restive North Caucasus region, which is disrupted by almost daily violence from an Islamist insurgency rooted in two Chechen wars.
Bach also said the IOC would inform athletes of their rights and obligations stemming from the Olympic charter, which bars political statements in Olympic venues and limits athletes promoting individual sponsors during the Games.
"We approved information for national Olympic committees and athletes with regard to (Charter) rules 50 and 40 to make them aware of the rules and going a step further to explain... why these rules are established and that they are there to protect them," Bach said.
On Sunday, German president Joachim Gauck became the first European head of state to announce he would not be attending the Games at the Russian Black Sea resort. He did not give specific reasons.
Some athletes have already announced they will protest against what they say are human rights violations in the country.
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Tim Collings)