Wife of poisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny among hundreds arrested at protests

The wife of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was among the more than 1,600 protesters arrested today during demonstrations calling for his release.

Yulia Navalny was detained as people took to the streets in more than 60 Russian cities after the Kremlin critic was arrested upon his return to Moscow last Sunday.

Navalny had been recuperating in Germany after being poisoned with a severe nerve agent, which he blames on President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

In Moscow, about 5,000 demonstrators filled Pushkin Square in the city centre. Clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were dragged off by riot officers to police buses and detention trucks.

Other protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the more populous European cities to the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, north of Japan.

Demonstrations were also held in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, where the temperatures dropped as low as -50°C.

The breadth of the protests demonstrated how Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media.

The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 191 people were detained in Moscow on Saturday and more than 100 at another large demonstration in St Petersburg. Overall, it said around 1,614 people had been arrested by late afternoon across the country.

Navalny was arrested at the airport and authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence for a 2014 criminal conviction.

The activist, 44, is well known nationally for his reports on the corruption that has flourished under President Putin’s government.

Navalny faces a court hearing in early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money-laundering – which he says was politically motivated – is converted to three and a half years behind bars.

On Thursday, Moscow police arrested three of his associates, two of whom were later jailed for periods of nine and 10 days.

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20.

He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning.

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