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Navalny Vows To Keep Holding Rallies Through Weekend Despite Arrest


Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny vowed to keep holding rallies that have drawn thousands of people across Russia after Moscow police released him from detention late on September 29.

After being held for about 10 hours in a move that prevented him from speaking at a rally in Nizhny Novgorod, Navalny was ordered to appear at an administrative hearing on October 2 on charges of repeatedly organizing illegal demonstrations.

"We are not going to stop what we do, whatever the obstacles," Navalny told journalists waiting for him outside the Moscow police station, adding that he plans to attend demonstrations in Orenburg in the Urals on September 30 and the northern city of Archangelsk on October 1.

Since announcing last year that he will run in the March 2018 presidential election, Navalny, 41, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, has opened more than 60 campaign offices in different regions of Russia.

In June, however, Russia's Central Election Commission said that Navalny is ineligible to run for public office because of a financial-crimes conviction that he said was politically motivated.

"A plan to block regional rallies won't work," Navalny said on Twitter after his release.

"The Kremlin sees my meetings with voters as a huge threat and even an insult -- after all no one comes to their [pro-government] meetings unless they are paid," he wrote. "They were saying for so long that opposition has no support in the regions, and it now pains them to even look at our rallies."

Navalny Posts Video Of Police Detaining Him
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Navalny and his staff have been repeatedly detained by police, as have many of his supporters at rallies, and some of his backers have been attacked or faced prosecution and other pressure from the authorities in recent months.

Human Rights Watch in a statement earlier this month said that Russian authorities are "systematically" interfering with Navalny's attempts to run for president, including by raiding his campaign offices, "arbitrarily" detaining campaign volunteers, and carrying out "other actions that unjustifiably interfere with campaigning."

Earlier in the day Navalny recorded his arrest and detention in Moscow through Instagram posts, writing that he was detained by police as he left his apartment building to catch a train for the Volga River city.

"Oh, how old man Putin doesn't want me to make it to the demonstration," he wrote. "It was like in the movies, a car pulled up and police came out."

He posted footage of the incident on Instagram and, in a video filmed at a Moscow police precinct house, appealed to supporters in Nizhny Novgorod to proceed with the rally despite his absence.

"Hi, this is Navalny from a police station," he said, apologizing that he could not make it "because the Kremlin is terribly afraid" of the demonstration.

Russian Police Remove Navalny Campaign Tent
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The Interior Ministry said Navalny was detained by Moscow police for what it said were "repeated calls" for people to take part in unauthorized demonstrations.

If a court rules at the October 2 hearing that Navalny violated regulations on protests and public gatherings, he could be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Navalny and his staff contend that the Nizhny Novgorod protest was legal. The calls for unauthorized protests he is alleged by police to have made could be a reference to his efforts to hold a rally in St. Petersburg on October 7.

In a blog post on September 27, Navalny said he had submitted repeated requests to city authorities to allow him to stage the rally in St. Petersburg, Putin's home town, but had not been offered a satisfactory location.

He wrote that he would make one more request to hold the rally in a park in the center of the city and threatened to call on supporters to protest on Palace Square -- the iconic heart of the Imperial-era capital -- if that is rejected.

Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is widely expected to seek and secure a fourth term in the March election, though he has not announced that he will run.

Putin would be constitutionally barred from seeking another six-year term in 2024 -- a fact that analysts say has led to concern in the Kremlin about how to maintain a tight a grip on the country in the future.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Dozhd, TASS, Interfax, Meduza, AP, AFP, and Reuters
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