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Protests in support of jailed opposition leader Navalny sweep across Russia

Hundreds of people have been arrested as protest rallies in support of detained Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny swept across Russia on Saturday, in defiance of the authorities and, in some cases, extremely low temperatures.

According to OVD-Info, an independent site that monitors arrests, 369 people have been detained as of early Saturday afternoon Moscow time.

The demonstrations kicked off in Russia’s far east city of Vladivostok and spread to the west as the day progressed. Navalny’s supporters said Friday they were planning protest across 90 cities and videos posted on social media showed crowds of people gathered in Vladivostok and a number of cities across Siberia and central Russia.

One video showed a small protest in the city of Yakutsk, where temperatures dropped to -53 degrees Celsius (- 63 Fahrenheit) on Saturday.

By early afternoon, crowds of people started to gather at Pushkin square in central Moscow, where the largest protest was expected to happen. They were met by police in riot gear. Scores of protesters were arrested even before the protest officially started.

The demonstrations have not received an official government permit and the authorities have warned people not to attend them.

Several allies of Navalny have been detained this week for inciting the protests, including his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh, Anti-Corruption Foundation investigator Georgy Alburov and opposition activist Lyubov Sobol.

The coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow office, Oleg Stepanov, was detained on Saturday, according to a tweet from Navalny’s Moscow team.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs has accused the United States of encouraging the protests after the US Embassy in Russia posted an alert on its website advising US citizens to avoid the demonstrations.

In a tweet posted on Saturday, the ministry said that posting information about the rallies was “in line with Washington’s provocative policy of encouraging protests in countries whose governments are seen by US as undesirable.”

Under Russian law, an official appeal for approval of a protest has to be made to local authorities at least 10 days before the event. Navalny was only arrested less than a week ago, so the organizers had insufficient time to launch an appeal.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport late Sunday, just moments after arriving from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from Novichok poisoning he blamed on the Russian government. The Kremlin repeatedly denied any involvement.

On Monday, he faced an unexpected hearing where a judge ordered Navalny to remain in custody for 30 days ahead of a court hearing to determine whether he had violated the terms of his suspended sentence in a 2014 embezzlement case, which he claims was politically motivated.

Russian internet regulator said Thursday it was planning to fine major social networks, including Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, for “spreading information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

CNN Newsource

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