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Russian Riot Police Disperse Moscow Navalny Rally, Arrest Protesters

Russian Police Disperse Rally To Support Opposition Leader
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WATCH: Riot police in Moscow dispersed an unapproved rally in support of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. There were reports of more than 100 arrests before the anti-riot forces intervened. Navalny and his brother were convicted earlier in the day on fraud charges his supporters see as politically motivated. (Reuters)

Russian riot police have dispersed an unsanctioned rally at Moscow's Manezh Square, near the Kremlin, after thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest a court ruling against opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

There were no reports of violence on December 30 as the square was cleared and OMON special police cordoned off the area.

RFE/RL's Russian Service reported that special police detained some demonstrators and loaded them into buses as most of the demonstrators quietly left the square.

Before riot police arrived, rights groups said police from other units arrested more than 170 demonstrators.

Navalny, who received a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence in the December 30 court ruling, was also detained while trying to reach the rally -- despite being under house arrest since February.

Reports said he was taken back to his Moscow residence and returned to house arrest.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow Our Coverage Of The Day's Events

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters braved temperatures of minus 12 degrees Celsius at the square while chanted "Freedom to Navalny" and slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin, including "Putin is Russia's shame!" and "Russia doesn't trust Putin."

Others could be heard chanting: "Russians! Ukrainians! Brothers forever!"

The Russian feminist performance-art collective Pussy Riot on December 30 released a video urging people to attend the rally.

About 18,000 people used a Facebook page to indicate they would attend a rally.

At the same trial, Navalny's brother Oleg was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

The different sentences for the two defendants immediately drew accusations from government critics that the state was holding Navalny 's brother "hostage" in its battle against the Putin foe, and Oleg Navalny was handcuffed after the judge announced the sentences.

"Aren't you ashamed of what you are doing," Aleksei Navalny shouted out in the courtroom: "Why are you jailing my brother?"

"Oleg is a hostage," said Ilya Yashin, a prominent opposition activist who came to the courthouse to support Navalny and his brother. "This is a mechanism of pressure on a person: try fighting corruption when your brother's in jail."

Oleg Navalny was taken to Moscow's Butyrka pretrial detention center. Defense lawyers said later that it was illegal for the court to hold him in custody for an economic crime before his appeals are exhausted.

In addition to the sentences, Judge Yelena Korobchenko ordered the men to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles ($8,500) each and to pay 4.4 million rubles ($70,000) in compensation to one of the companies they were charged with defrauding.

Defense lawyers said they will appeal the verdicts.

State prosecutors, who had requested 10-year prison terms for the brothers, said they will consider an appeal after they read the court's ruling.

The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said on December 30 that the charges against Navalny "appear to be politically motivated."

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Washington was "troubled by the guilty verdict" against Aleksei and Oleg Navalny.

Rathke said the judgment "appears to be designed to further punish and deter political activism."

He said it also appeared to be "another example of the Russian government's growing crackdown on independent voices."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, AFP, Reuters, and Interfax
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