The lower house of Russia's parliament overwhelmingly approved the draft of a law that will regulate non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  The Kremlin says the law will control NGOs that may be just fronts for foreign political intervention, but critics say it represents a threat to civil rights in Russia. 

The measure was passed after little debate in the Duma on the second of three required readings.

The bill had 74 pages of amendments added since the first version was approved last month, partly because President Vladimir Putin told the Duma the original draft was inadequate.

But critics say the amendments do little to alter the basic premise of the proposed law, which is to closely regulate organizations ranging from human rights and environmental groups to charities.

The Kremlin argues that many of the hundreds of NGOs operating in Russia exist to promote political causes, launder money or even act as fronts to gather intelligence.

Russian officials say foreign groups helped finance and instigate popular uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-Western governments to power.

The law seeks to establish a new agency that would closely regulate where groups get their financing, and require extensive documentation for exactly what they do.

During the Duma debate, deputy Alexei Mitrofonov complained that an unnamed organization that was criticizing the law used foreign money to put up political billboards.

Critics say the law represents a serious threat to civil liberty in Russia, and might force human rights or environmental organizations to leave the country.

The United States, the European Union and other governments have all expressed concern about the proposed law.

NGOs are seen as the last independent sectors still in Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power six years ago.

Wednesday's approval of the law by the pro-Kremlin dominated Duma was not unexpected.

The final reading of the bill is due to come soon before it is sent to the upper house of parliament, where it is also virtually certain to win approval.