Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny addressed supporters in the southern city of Astrakhan hours after his release from a Moscow detention center following a 20-day term served for organizing unsanctioned protests against President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in the rain to about 300 people, Navalny on October 22 said, "Do we need this kind of power that makes fun of us? No, and that's why I'm a candidate, the right candidate for Astrakhan."
The 41-year-old Navalny, who has vowed to run in the March 2018 presidential election, said he was "ready to work" after his release from the Moscow detention center.
Navalny left the detention center early on October 22 after serving the 20-day sentence imposed by a Moscow court that found him guilty of repeatedly violating laws regulating protests and demonstrations.
"Hi. I'm out," Navalny wrote on his Instagram account, posting a picture of himself on a street.
Earlier in the day, Navalny supporters hung a banner on a bridge close to the Kremlin reading, "It's time to get rid of Putin and time to elect Navalny," AFP reported.
Navalny has campaigned actively ahead of the 2018 vote, building a formidable base among Russians, particularly younger voters, who have taken to his message of fighting corruption among top government officials.
However, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said in June that he is ineligible to run for public office because of a financial-crimes conviction in one of two high-profile cases that he says were fabricated by authorities for political reasons.
CEC chief Ella Pamfilova said on October 17 that Navalny cannot run for office until "sometime in about 2028 plus six months" due to the conviction.
However, in a posting on his website after the rally, he said he would continue his presidential campaign and that he had a right to take part in the 2018 election.
"We have more right to take part in the elections than all the other candidates combined," Navalny wrote.
A spokeswoman for Navalny said the authorities had authorized the rally at Druzhba (Friendship) Park in Astrakhan, located 1,300 kilometers southeast of Moscow near the Caspian Sea.
The activist has organized protests in cities nationwide on several occasions in recent months, including on Putin's 65th birthday on October 7.
Demonstrators called on the authorities to let Navalny run in the presidential election, and hundreds were detained by police.
Rattling The Kremlin
In addition to organizing street protests, Navalny has rattled the Kremlin by publishing reports alleging high-level corruption among allies of Putin.
Although Putin, who has held power as president or prime minister for 18 years and remains widely popular, has not officially announced he will run in 2018, he is expected to do so and to secure an easy victory.
During Navalny's latest jail term, Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian socialite, TV personality, opposition activist, and daughter of a former St. Petersburg mayor, said she would run in the presidential election.
Sobchak, 35, said her candidacy would serve as a way to cast a protest vote, a “vote against all” -- a reference to a feature that was common on many Russian election ballots until it was outlawed in 2006.
Speaking about Sobchak’s decision to run, Navalny said in Astrakhan on October 22 that “everybody has a right to participate in the elections” and “run for office.“
Navalny also said that he likes some candidates "more and some less" than others.
Last month the crusading lawyer publicly mocked the idea of Sobchak standing for office, saying she would be endorsed by the Kremlin as the liberal rival to Putin.
Analysts say the Kremlin is eager to bolster turnout and strengthen Putin's mandate in what could be his fourth and last presidential term.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters