Russian opposition leader rearrested hours after release

Alexei Navalny faces fresh charges amid continued outcry over pension reforms

Russian police officers detain opposition activist Alexei Navalny as he leaves a detention centre  in Moscow. Photograph: AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov

Russian police officers detain opposition activist Alexei Navalny as he leaves a detention centre in Moscow. Photograph: AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was facing fresh charges on Monday, hours after completing a 30-day prison sentence for breaching demonstration laws.

Police rearrested Mr Navalny as he was escorted out of a detention centre in Moscow and directed him to a waiting van.

Later in the day Mr Navalny appeared in court and was charged with inciting violence over a demonstration he organised for earlier this month against controversial government plans to raise the Russian retirement age. The judge had not yet passed a verdict.

Mr Navalny’s supporters said the Kremlin had orchestrated the two cases to remove the popular opposition activist from the arena at a time of heightened political tensions.

However, Dmitri Peskov, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that he had only heard about Mr Navalny’s rearrest from Russian media.

Mr Navalny was given no time to prepare his defence before the court hearing on Monday evening, or even to summon a lawyer. “You’ve got 10 minutes,” the judge snapped after he appealed for two days to study the evidence against him.

A lawyer turned political activist and anti-corruption crusader, Mr Navalny has long been the most prominent face of opposition to Mr Putin, whom he has pledged to oust from power.

Over the past decade he has faced a slew of legal charges that have seen him spend a total of 172 days in jail and barred him as a convicted felon from standing in the presidential election last March, when Mr Putin won a fourth term in power.

In recent weeks Mr Navalny has been urging his followers to defy police and protest against government plans to raise the national retirement age.

He has also drawn the wrath of Viktor Zolotov, the head of the Russian National Guard, accusing the powerful law enforcement body of engaging in a corrupt pricing scam. In a bizarre outburst this month, Mr Zolotov challenged Mr Navalny to a duel or a punch-up and threatened to make a “juicy steak” of the opposition leader at the fight.

Violent crackdown

The National Guard cracked down violently on the unauthorised demonstration organised by Mr Navalny against pension reforms in Moscow on September 9th. Mr Navalny, already serving the 30-day sentence that ended on Monday, was unable to attend the rally, where many of his supporters were arrested and beaten by police.

Government plans to increase the retirement age have fired up Russia’s so-called systemic opposition parties who, unlike Mr Navalny, are represented in parliament and rarely present a serious challenge to the Kremlin.

In the latest round of protests, Russia’s Communist Party and other leftist groups staged nationwide rallies at the weekend calling on the authorities to ditch the reforms.

Russian politicians plan to debate the pension reform Bill at a decisive second reading on Wednesday. It is planned to complete the third and final reading by early October, allowing the controversial Bill to pass into law.

The Kremlin may be calculating that the political momentum for protest against the reforms will have ebbed before Mr Navalny is next released from jail.

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