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Police tried to sweep protesters off the streets of multiple Russian cities Saturday but thousands across the country defied protest bans to march for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
At least 100 people were arrested and bundled into vans in central Moscow before the protest even began, Reuters reported. Across Russia, upwards of 369 people were arrested in nearly 40 towns and cities as protesters defied bitter cold and a ban on the demonstrations.
Navalny’s supporters shouted “Putin is a thief!” and “Disgrace” as demonstrators were arrested in Moscow. Police warned as the crowds gathered in downtown Pushkin Square that “the current event is illegal,” Guardian reporter Andrew Roth tweeted, but thousands packed the streets anyway, throwing snowballs at riot police when they moved in to make arrests.
Navalny’s wife Yulia, who traveled back to Russia with him from Germany, said she would demonstrate in Moscow “for myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” the BBC reported.
In the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, where it was 7 degrees, video showed riot police chasing protesters down the street as they chanted, “Bandits!” Even in Siberia’s Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities in the world, protesters braved temperatures of -62 degrees to demand Navalny’s release.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Kremlin’s fiercest critic, was arrested Sunday when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent nearly five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. On Monday, a judge ordered Navalny jailed for 30 days. He faces a long prison term.
Even from jail, he has continued to criticize Putin, with his team releasing videos that went viral. One showing Putin has a billion dollar palace built with corrupt money was viewed more than 60 million times. Another accuses Putin of having a 17-year-old love child.
Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov told Reuters the scale of Saturday’s protests across Russia was unusual.
“Everyone must be really fed up with the stealing and lies if the regions have risen up like this without waiting for Moscow. Hundreds and thousands even in small cities,” he wrote on Twitter.
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