PUTIN AD­VER­SARY’S OF­FEN­SIVE

Op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny ar­rested at anti-graft rally

New Straits Times - - World -

ANTI-COR­RUP­TION cam­paigner Alexei Navalny has ce­mented his sta­tus as leader of Rus­sia’s op­po­si­tion move­ment by or­gan­is­ing the largest unau­tho­rised protest in re­cent years against Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The 40-year-old clean-cut lawyer, who was ar­rested at Sun­day’s demon­stra­tion here, is no stranger to clashes with Krem­lin.

He has spent time un­der house ar­rest and seen his brother jailed in a string of cases he has de­nounced as ret­ri­bu­tion for chal­leng­ing au­thor­i­ties and ex­pos­ing the vast wealth of the pres­i­dent’s in­ner cir­cle.

Late last year, he an­nounced he would run for pres­i­dent next year, an elec­tion that Putin is ex­pected to dom­i­nate.

This month, he posted a YouTube video trac­ing Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev’s links to man­sions, yachts and vine­yards that has been viewed 12 mil­lion times.

No of­fi­cial re­sponse fol­lowed, and Navalny called sup­port­ers to protest across Rus­sia. Thou­sands turned out here, where some 1,000 peo­ple were ar­rested, in­clud­ing Navalny.

He ap­peared in court yes­ter­day and was fined 20,000 rou­bles (RM1,550) and jailed 15 days for his role in the rally. Most of those ar­rested were re­leased overnight af­ter be­ing fined.

Last month, Navalny was found guilty in a re­trial of an em­bez­zle­ment case that could mean he is not el­i­gi­ble to stand for pres­i­dent, though he in­sists he will not be forced out of the race.

Though crit­i­cised for his an­ti­im­mi­grant na­tion­al­ist stance, Navalny has tapped into dis­con­tent among the young ur­ban mid­dle class with fiery speeches and Western-style cam­paign­ing.

But, in an en­vi­ron­ment where the me­dia and the po­lit­i­cal land­scape are tightly con­trolled by the Krem­lin, he re­mains a fringe fig­ure for most Rus­sians, who are more likely to be­lieve the of­fi­cial por­trayal of him as a Western stooge and con­victed crim­i­nal.

“Navalny is a unique politi­cian of the younger gen­er­a­tion,” said Niko­lai Petrov, a pro­fes­sor at the Higher School of Eco­nom­ics here, adding that he had de­vel­oped a high pro­file “at a time when pub­lic pol­i­tics has ceased to ex­ist”.

Dur­ing the mass protests of 2011, sparked by al­le­ga­tions of vote rig­ging in par­lia­men­tary polls, Navalny grabbed at­ten­tion with his rhetoric.

He coined catchy phrases, such as the “party of crooks and thieves”, to slam the gov­ern­ing United Rus­sia. Al­though the protests pe­tered out af­ter a crack­down by the au­thor­i­ties, they helped launch Navalny’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Among his most eye-catch­ing ex­poses have been de­tails on the pala­tial homes of Putin’s al­lies in Rus­sia and abroad, in­clud­ing one kit­ted out with a vast stor­age room for fur coats built by Vladimir Yakunin, for­mer chief of Rus­sia’s na­tional rail­ways.

Last July, as Western sanc­tions over Rus­sia’s role in the Ukraine cri­sis and low oil prices hit av­er­age Rus­sians hard, Navalny re­vealed that Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Igor Shu­valov was send­ing his pet cor­gis on pri­vate jets to dog shows around Europe.

“Dear friends, those who voted for Putin and United Rus­sia, you made it pos­si­ble for Rus­sian of­fi­cials to steal com­pletely openly and live as they do,” Navalny said in an on­line video.

“Please don’t ever do this again.”

AFP PIC

Po­lice of­fi­cers de­tain­ing Alexei Navalny dur­ing an unau­tho­rised anti-cor­rup­tion rally in Moscow on Sun­day.

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