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Navalny Supporters Call For Street Protests; Authorities Seek To Stifle Them

Navalny's Supporters March On Kirov Prison, Several Arrestedi
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July 18, 2013
Supporters of opposition activist Aleksei Navalny marched to the detention center in Kirov where Navalny was taken after being sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges. Several protesters scuffled with police, and at least two were arrested. Major demonstrations in support of Navalny are expected later in at least 25 Russian cities. (Reuters)
WATCH: Navalny supporters marched to the detention center in Kirov where the opposition leader was taken after being sentenced to five years in prison. Several protesters scuffled with police, and at least two were arrested.

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Navalny's Tweets Of Defiance

As the Navalny trial judge speed-read through reams of text, while spectators -- defendants, the families, journalists -- occupied their time by tapping away on their mobile phones. Navalny’s own live-tweeting of the proceedings ruthlessly mocked the court with characteristic satire.
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -- Before being taken away to begin serving his five-year prison sentence, Aleksei Navalny called on his supporters to rally in protest.

Shortly before the sentencing, in a court in Kirov on July 18, the anticorruption blogger and opposition leader tweeted a picture of President Vladimir Putin, brooding and ashen-faced, with the caption "God have mercy upon you."  

And immediately after learning that he had received a stiff five-year sentence, Navalny tweeted: "It's okay. Try not to miss me. And most importantly, don't be lazy. The toad won't get off the oil pipeline by itself."

Within hours, supporters in at least 25 Russian cities indicated on social networks that they were gearing up for evening demonstrations against what they see as the politically charged jailing of Navalny, who just a day earlier was registered as a candidate for Moscow's September 8 mayoral election. 

Ilya Varlamov, a popular blogger and photographer, has posted a map online indicating the cities across Russia where protests are planned 

Derailing The Opposition

But the Russian authorities are not going to make it easy for the protesters.

Several demonstrators were detained at an impromptu demonstration at the detention facility in Kirov where Navalny was reportedly being held. There were also conflicting reports about where the opposition leader would be detained, an apparent attempt to confuse protesters.

In Moscow, meanwhile, nearly 10,000 people have indicated on a special Facebook page that they intend to gather in the evening on the capital's central Manezh Square to "discuss" the verdict.

They might, however, have trouble entering the square, which is located near the Kremlin. In the morning, before the verdict was announced, Moscow City Hall announced that it would be closed for "planned work" to replace the square's paving stones.

A spokesman for the Moscow mayor's office told ITAR-TASS that "unsanctioned events will be stopped" and their organizers "held accountable."

Formula One?

The authorities have also closed down the opposition's spiritual home, Bolotnaya Square, the scene of massive protests in December 2011 that propelled Navalny to the status of a national opposition figure. The square was also the scene of violent clashes between police and protesters on the eve of Putin's inauguration in May 2012.

The official reason for the closure is a Formula One race reportedly scheduled for this weekend.

A presenter on online television station Dozhd-TV, which is friendly to the opposition, openly scoffed at the explanation: "Bolotnaya Square is fenced off apparently not because they expect unsanctioned protests in support of Navalny, but instead because there will be some kind of event to do with Formula One. Although it has to be said it is unclear where the cars are going to drive."

Meanwhile, Twitter has been flooded with angry messages from Navalny's supporters. The hash tag #Навальный (Navalny) has been one of the most popular worldwide and #Манежной (Manezh) is trending strongly in Russia.

Tom Balmforth

Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics.


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