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Navalny Calls For January 28 Protests In Support Of Election Boycott

Navalny Calls For Protests In Support Of Election Boycott
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Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who has been barred from challenging President Vladimir Putin in a March election, is calling for a "voters' strike" and nationwide demonstrations on January 28 in support of a boycott of the ballot.

Navalny's December 27 call set up a potential showdown on the streets weeks before the March 18 election, which he dismissed as the "reappointment" of Putin to a new six-year term.

"It's a simple thing: Either we fight for our country or we give it up to these talentless swindlers without a fight," he said in a video posted on his website.

In a written statement in the same post, Navalny said it was "clear that Putin and the Kremlin need [high] turnout" to put a veneer of legitimacy on the vote and hand Putin a powerful mandate for what could be his last term.

He accused other would-be candidates of helping Putin and serving their own interests at the expense of the people.

Reiterating his call for a boycott, Navalny urged Russians to stay away from the polls on March 18 and to try with "all their might" to persuade those around them not to vote.

"We refuse to call Putin's reappointment an election," Navalny wrote, adding that "on January 28 we will hold a [nationwide] action in support of the voters' strike."

"We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now," he wrote.

Navalny posted the statement the same day that Putin submitted signatures supporting his reelection bid to the Central Election Commission.

The commission ruled on December 25 that Navalny cannot run because of a financial-crime conviction that the anticorruption activist contends was engineered by the Kremlin to punish him for his opposition activities and keep him out of elections.

Navalny responded to the decision by calling for a boycott of the vote, and Putin's spokesman said on December 26 that boycott calls should be "studied" to determine whether they violate the law.

In the new statement, Navalny said supporters would organize monitoring efforts aimed to ensure that the authorities do not "falsify turnout."

The statement included a list of dozens of cities where demonstrations would be held on January 28.

Attacking The Kremlin

Navalny, 41, who has been jailed three times his year in connection with protests that officials have deemed illegal, said that he and his allies would submit documents soon in a bid to secure permission for the rallies.

But if it is denied, he said he and supporters will demonstrate anyway, and called on people supporting the boycott to act "peacefully but firmly."

A vocal Kremlin critic whose reports have alleged corruption among senior Putin associates, Navalny has been convicted on criminal charges in two cases he says were fabricated for political reasons.

He says that he rattled the Kremlin when he came in a strong second in a Moscow mayoral election in 2013, shortly after his initial conviction on a charge that he defrauded the budget of the Kirov region of some $270,000 through timber-sales machinations.

Navalny announced his presidential bid in December 2016 and has been campaigning since then, facing hurdles ranging from bureaucratic hindrances to pressure on supporters and physical attacks.

He pressed ahead after the election commission said in June that he was ineligible to run due to the conviction -- which was repeated in a retrial after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the state had violated his right to a fair trial.

The commission's December 25 ruling formally barring Navalny from the ballot came a day after backers in 20 Russian cities held gatherings to nominate him.

Putin, 65, has been president or prime minister since 1999. If he is elected in March -- a foregone conclusion given his high approval ratings and the Kremlin's control over the levers of power -- he would be barred from running for a third straight term in 2018.

Putin and his allies say he brought stability to Russia in the wake of an economic crisis in the late 1990s and two devastating wars against separatists in the Chechnya region from 1994 to the early 2000s.

Critics say the former KGB officer has stifled dissent, rolled back advances in democracy and human rights that were made after the 1991 Soviet collapse, and isolated Russia by stoking confrontation with neighbors, Washington, and the West.

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