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Yulia Galyamina: "This is political persecution." (file photo)

Russian police detained four people at a meeting of opposition figures and municipal deputies in the city of Novgorod, in the latest crackdown on Kremlin critics ahead of elections later this year.

Yulia Galyamina, an opposition leader from Moscow; Vitaly Bovar, a municipal deputy from St. Petersburg; Yamalo-Nenets lawmaker Aleksandr Bondarchuk; and Viktor Shalyakin, the head of the Novgorod Yabloko party, were all detained on May 22.

Police broke up the meeting at the Rossia hotel soon after it started, citing a breach of coronavirus rules.

Andrei Nikitin, the governor of the Novgorod region, banned gatherings of more than 30 people in one room in a decree on May 8.

Gatherings of more than 30 people in one room are banned. Police claimed 31 people were present, although organizers said only 25 people were in attendance.

"This is political persecution," said Galyamina, who posted a video of herself being taken into police custody.

In March, Russian police detained around 200 people, mostly opposition figures and municipal deputies, at an event in Moscow.

Among the detainees were prominent Putin critics, including senior Open Russia leaders Andrey Pivovarov and Anastasia Burakova; former Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman; opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza; and city deputy Ilya Yashin.

The detentions were the latest crackdown on Russia’s opposition since Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny was arrested, put on trial, and imprisoned in the wake of his January return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny's team has accused authorities of seeking to further intimidate critics ahead of general elections in September.

Navalny and his supporters have developed a "smart-voting" system, which is aimed at undoing United Russia’s stranglehold on political power in the upcoming election through better coordination of voters at the local level.

With reporting by dpa
CORRECTION: This article has been amended to correct the Novgorod governor's first name as well as to clarify that four people were detained and the events took place in the city of Novgorod.
Activist Vitold Ashurak

A Belarusian political activist who was sentenced in January to five years in prison for participating in anti-government protests has reportedly died.

The precise circumstances of Vitold Ashurak’s death weren’t immediately clear. The news website Onliner and other media said he suffered a heart attack in a prison facility in eastern Belarus.

Ashurak, 50, was a member of the Belarusian Popular Front opposition party and a coordinator of the For Freedom movement.

At a closed-door trial in January, a court found him guilty of gross violations of public order and violence against police.

Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya condemned prison authorities for allowing Ashurak’s death.

"People are not just suffering, people die because of the regime in Belarus," she said in a post to Twitter.

Tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets for months last year after Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared a landslide reelection victory in a vote in August that was widely disputed.

Tsikhanouskaya has called for new elections, something Lukashenka has refused to agree to.

The European Union and the United States have sanctioned Lukashenka and dozens of officials and businessmen with asset freezes and visa bans.

In response to Ashurak's death, European Union spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc "demands the immediate release" of all political prisoners.

With reporting by AFP

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