Russians participate in protests in opposition to the detention of Kremlin critic Navalny regardless of the crackdown


© Reuters. Navalny supporters protest his arrest


By Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Supporters of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets in Siberia and the Russian Far East for a second weekend in a row on Sunday despite crackdowns on his allies and police warned.

Later on Sunday rallies are planned in Moscow as part of a campaign to win the release of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent. He was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany, where he recovered from nerve agent poisoning in Russia last summer.

Police said the protests had not been approved and would be disbanded like last weekend. OVD-Info, a protest monitoring group, said more than 4,000 people were arrested at the rallies last week.

In the far eastern city of Vladivostok, where a rally began at 2:00 a.m. GMT, police prevented protesters from entering the center and forced them to move to the waterfront and into the frozen waters of Amur Bay.

Video footage showed demonstrators chanting "Putin is a thief" as they clasped their hands and marched on the ice in temperatures of around -13 degrees Celsius (8.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

In Tomsk, the Siberian city Navalny visited before suddenly collapsing on a domestic flight last August, protesters gathered outside a concert hall and sang "Let him go!" holding up Russian flags

According to OVD-Info, the police had arrested 145 people since the rallies began, including 76 in Vladivostok.

Navalny supporters in Moscow plan to gather at 9:00 a.m. GMT near the Kremlin administration and the headquarters of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, where protesters tore down a statue of the founder of the secret police during the Soviet disintegration in 1991.

The authorities have closed seven metro stations in the Russian capital and announced that they will limit pedestrian movement in the region due to the protest plans. There was a heavy police presence in central Moscow early on Sunday.

Navalny, a 44-year-old opposition politician, accuses Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.

He is accused of committing parole violations. A court will meet next week to consider a sentence of up to three and a half years.

The protests following Navalny's dramatic return to Moscow despite the threat of arrest put Putin in a dilemma on how to react. Surveys show pent-up frustrations among Russians over years of falling wages and the consequences of the pandemic.

The West has asked Moscow to let Navalny go and its allies have appealed to US President Joe Biden to sanction 35 people who they say are Putin's close allies.

To bolster support at home in an online video that has been viewed over 100 million times, Navalny has accused Putin of being the ultimate owner of a magnificent Black Sea palace, which the Kremlin leader has denied.

On the eve of the protests, Arkady Rotenberg, a businessman and Putin's former judo sparring partner, said he owned the property.

Many of Navalny's prominent allies were severely attacked this week. Some, including his brother Oleg, are under house arrest.

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