Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released

Protest organiser was detained along with hundreds of others during anti-Putin rallies

Police carry Alexei Navalny by the arms and legs out of Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Video: Reuters

 

The leader of mass protests against Russian president Vladimir Putin that resulted in the arrests of more than 1,500 demonstrators across Russia has been released from detention but faces two charges.

Alexei Navalny said on Twitter on Sunday that he had been released after he was arrested during a rally in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Saturday. He said he faces charges of organising an unauthorised meeting and of resisting police.

Each of those charges can carry a jail sentence of 15 days. Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who is Mr Putin’s most prominent rival, has already served several multi-week stretches in jail on similar charges.

OND-Info, an organisation that monitors Russian political arrests, said at least 1,575 people were arrested in demonstrations in 26 cities against Mr Putin’s upcoming inauguration for a new term as president. It was not clear on Sunday how many remained in custody.

Police seized Mr Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Pushkin Square, where thousands gathered for an unauthorised protest. Police also used batons against protesters who chanted “Putin is a thief” and “Russia will be free”.

Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the fringes of Europe.

Amnesty International called the arrests and beatings of some of the protesters “outrageous”.

Sizeable support

The protests demonstrated that Mr Navalny’s opposition, although considered beleaguered by officials and largely ignored by state-controlled television, has sizeable support in much of the country.

“I think that Putin isn’t worthy of leading this country. He has been doing it for 18 years and has done nothing good for it,” said Moscow demonstrator Dmitry Nikitenko. “He should leave for good.”

Moscow police said about 300 people were detained in the capital, state news agencies said, and there was no official countrywide tally.

In St Petersburg, police blocked off a stretch of Nevsky Prospekt as a crowd of about 1,000 marched along the renowned avenue.

Mr Putin is to be inaugurated for a new six-year term on Monday after winning re-election in March with 77 per cent of the vote. Mr Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a conviction in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalise him.

Mr Navalny has called nationwide demonstrations several times in the past year, and their turnout has rattled the Kremlin. – Associated Press