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Russia: Navalny supporters plan protests despite government warning

Supporters of imprisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny are set to hold nationwide rallies on Saturday, despite threats by the authorities to disperse them.

The gatherings, which the police have declared illegal, will be the first protests by Mr. Navalny’s supporters since he returned to Moscow and was immediately arrested last weekend after recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia.

The forty-four-year-old lawyer-turned-politician accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.

Mr. Navalny has campaigned against President Putin for years and says the long-serving Russian leader has orchestrated an unrelenting state effort to silence him.

Observers believe Mr. Navalny now risks facing years in jail over legal cases that he has insisted are trumped up.

They also note that the opposition politician’s supporters are betting on a high-risk strategy, aimed at producing a show of anti-Putin street support during winter and a hard-hitting pandemic, in order to pressure the authorities into setting him free.

Also, the Kremlin faces a dilemma, whether to allow the protests to proceed or try to confront them, roughly nine months before parliamentary elections.

Several Western governments have told Moscow to release Mr. Navalny. The latest calls from Europe and America have sparked new tensions in already strained ties with Russia as US President Joe Biden launches his administration.

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