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Jailed Putin Foe Navalny Rallies Supporters Across Russia

Jailed Putin Foe Navalny Rallies Supporters Across Russia

Sunday, 24 January 2021 08:26 AM

Supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny held Russia’s biggest anti-Kremlin protests since at least 2018, braving clashes with riot police and freezing temperatures to demand his release from jail.

Tens of thousands turned out in dozens of cities across the world’s largest country Saturday, defying the authorities’ warnings that they may face charges of “mass disorder” for the unauthorized protests. Police detained at least 3,435 people, including 1,360 in Moscow, the most since 2011, the OVD-Info monitoring group reported.

At least 15,000 gathered in central Moscow’s Pushkin Square, according to the opposition Open Media site, while the Interior Ministry said protesters numbered about 4,000. Social media video showed police beating and dragging people away, while the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported that 39 officers were injured during the protests.

Some 5,000 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, according to the Kommersant news site. More than 15,000 joined protests in cities in Russia’s Far East and Siberia, the Meduza news website reported, including in Yakutsk where temperatures were as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius (-58f).

The showdown in at least 66 cities between the authorities and the anti-Kremlin opposition represented the largest nationwide demonstrations since the 2018 protests over pension reforms. It follows Navalny’s imprisonment on Sunday after he returned to Moscow from Berlin, where he’d been recovering from a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning that he and Western governments blamed on President Vladimir Putin’s security service. The Kremlin denies responsibility.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning “the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia.”

“Continued efforts to suppress Russians’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the arrest of opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, and the crackdown on protests that followed are troubling indications of further restrictions on civil society and fundamental freedoms,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“We call on Russian authorities to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights and for the immediate and unconditional release of Aleksey Navalny.”

The campaign will continue with new protests taking place next weekend, Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny ally, said in a YouTube broadcast on the Navalny Live channel.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, was among those detained at the Moscow protest, though she was released later in the evening, the independent Dozhd TV reported. Lyubov Sobol, another key opposition leader, was also seized by police shortly after arriving at the rally.

Anastasia, a 59-year-old paediatrician in Moscow who declined to give her last name, was among those attending their first protest. “I came because I don’t have it in me to live under a bandit government,” she said.

After police cleared Pushkin Square, thousands of protesters marched through central Moscow into the evening pursued by large groups of officers.

Protesters chanted “Putin is a thief” and demanded his resignation as well as the release of Navalny. The 44-year-old opposition leader has continued to challenge Putin from prison, drawing nearly 70 million views on YouTube since Tuesday for a new video investigation into a giant Black Sea palace that he says belongs to the president. The Kremlin has rejected the allegations.

Navalny faces a prison term of as long as 3 1/2 years at a Feb. 2 hearing for allegedly violating his probation under a suspended sentence during his treatment in Germany, while potential new charges also carry a maximum 10 years in jail. Officials close to the leadership warn that the Kremlin is determined to lock up Putin’s most prominent opponent for years despite U.S. and European demands to free him.

European Council President Charles Michel called for Navalny’s release in a call with Putin Friday. New U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told senators this week that Navalny was a voice for “millions of Russians and their voice needs to be heard.”

In a message posted Friday on his Instagram feed, Navalny said “just in case” that he has no plans to commit suicide or to have “a sudden heart attack” while in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina prison. “My psycho-emotional state is completely stable,” he said.

Putin, 68, pushed to change the constitution last year to allow him to continue as president until 2036, though he has yet to say if he will run for a fifth term in 2024. His support fell last year to a record low as the economy buckled under the strain of the Covid-19 epidemic.

With Russia due to hold parliamentary elections in September, Navalny is seeking to convert public unhappiness into increased opposition to Putin’s rule.

© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny held Russia's biggest anti-Kremlin protests since at least 2018, braving clashes with riot police and freezing temperatures to demand his release from jail.Tens of thousands turned out in dozens of cities across the world's...
Sunday, 24 January 2021 08:26 AM
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