Ar­rests fol­low protest on Putin birth­day

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Worldwide -

Po­lice de­tained more than 100 sup­port­ers of Alexei Navalny, the jailed Rus­sian op­po­si­tion leader, yes­ter­day as thou­sands ral­lied na­tion­wide on President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birth­day, call­ing for the leader to re­tire.

Putin, who has now reached the of­fi­cial re­tire­ment age of lower-rank­ing state em­ploy­ees, is widely ex­pected to run again in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and en­joys a high ap­proval rat­ing. Navalny has de­clared his in­ten­tion to run in the elec­tion next March and had been cam­paign­ing in provin­cial cities as part of his long-shot bid for the pres­i­dency.

He was ar­rested late last month and a court last week sen­tenced him to 20 days in jail on charges of re­peat­edly vi­o­lat­ing a law on or­gan­is­ing public meet­ings. Navalny’s ar­rest gal­vanised sup­port­ers in 80 cities, who turned out yes­ter­day in a na­tion­wide protest against the rul­ing.

“I came out to sup­port the op­po­si­tion be­cause I don’t agree with the course our coun­try has taken,” said one of the St Peters­burg pro­tes­tors. “The ig­no­rance and in­san­ity have reached im­pos­si­ble lev­els.”

Pro­test­ers chanted “free Navalny”, “Putin’s a thief” and “fourth term in prison”, re­fer­ring to the president’s ex­pected run for re-elec­tion.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­fused per­mis­sion for many of the demon­stra­tions and told res­i­dents not to at­tend. Putin’s spokesman warned that vi­o­la­tors could be pros­e­cuted — but ac­tivists de­clared they would go ahead any­way.

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