New York Daily News

COLD RUSSIA FURY

Police nab 3,000 in protests over arrest of Kremlin critic

- BY JESSICA SCHLADEBEC­K AND JOE ERWIN

Russian police arrested more than 3,000 people who braved brutal temperatur­es on Saturday to protest the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Among those arrested was Navalny’s wife, Yulia.

Protests spanned the sprawling nation, sparked by the recent arrest of Navalny as he returned to his home country despite nearly dying from a poisoning that he blames on Vladimir Putin’s government.

Temperatur­es in some regions on Saturday plunged to minus-58 Fahrenheit, but that didn’t stop thousands of Russians from taking to the streets and demanding the release of Putin’s most prominent critic.

In Moscow, 5,000 demonstrat­ors filled Pushkin Square in the city center, where tensions with police boiled over.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” said Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow. “It’s total lawlessnes­s. And if we stay silent, it will go on forever.”

Yulia Navalnaya posted an Instagram photo of herself at the rally, with a caption that said, “What a blessing that you are all here! Thank you!”

Less than a half hour later, Navalnaya shared another picture in a car, with a caption, “Sorry for the poor quality. Very bad light in the paddy wagon.”

The OVD-Info group, which tracks political arrests, said at least 1,167 people were detained in Moscow and more than 460 in St. Petersburg. Overall, more than 3,000 people had been arrested in 90 cities.

The U.S. State Department ripped the Russian response.

“The United States strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalist­s this weekend in cities throughout Russia,” the department said in a statement.

“We call on Russian authoritie­s to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights and for the immediate and unconditio­nal release of ... Navalny,” the State Department added. “We urge Russia to fully cooperate with the internatio­nal community’s investigat­ion into the poisoning of ... Navalny and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil.”

Navalny, a 44-year-old activist known for his anti-corruption campaigns, fell ill shortly after boarding a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. Members of his team and his supporters have repeatedly claimed he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Siberian doctors said they saved Navalny’s life — though publicly, they denied he was poisoned.

After two days in the Siberian hospital, Navalny was flown to a hospital in Germany, where medical officials contradict­ed Russian denials that he was poisoned.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organizati­on for the Prohibitio­n of Chemical Weapons, determined Navalny was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

After five months in recovery, Navalny returned to Russia on Sunday and was immediatel­y arrested.

Authoritie­s have said Navalny’`s stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence for a 2014 criminal conviction, which Navalny contends was based on fabricated charges.

He has a hearing slated for early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money-laundering can put him behind bars for more than three years.

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 ??  ?? Anger swelled Saturday all across Russia despite bonechilli­ng cold as supporters of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny protested in Moscow (main photo above r.), Siberia (right and second photo from top above left) and St. Petersburg (top left).
Anger swelled Saturday all across Russia despite bonechilli­ng cold as supporters of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny protested in Moscow (main photo above r.), Siberia (right and second photo from top above left) and St. Petersburg (top left).

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