Russian police ‘force’ entry into office of opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Hundreds of demonstrators begin nationwide protests against authorities in support of rival candidate, calling on voters to boycott upcoming 'rigged presidential election'

Sunday 28 January 2018 10:47 GMT
The 41-year-old says the system is fixed against contenders like himself
The 41-year-old says the system is fixed against contenders like himself (AFP)

Russian police arrived at the Moscow headquarters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Sunday morning and started to try to force their way in by using an angle grinder, Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for Mr Navalny said.

Photographs posted on the internet by Mr Navalny’s supporters showed about 14 policemen gathered outside his office door. Yarmysh said she thought the raid was designed to shut down the work of a TV studio inside.

Hundreds of supporters of Mr Navalny began a nationwide day of protests against the authorities on Sunday, calling on voters to boycott what they said was a rigged presidential election on 18 March.

Beneath bright blue skies, young people gathered in the main square of the port of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. Speakers called the election, which polls show incumbent Vladimir Putin should easily win, a farce.

“I will go to the elections when there’s a choice,” read one placard in Vladivostok, a reference to the fact that Mr Navalny has been barred from running over what he says is a trumped up suspended prison sentence. “Putin is gobbling up Russia’s future,” read another.

Other protests took place in Novosibirsk, Kurgan, Omsk, Magadan, Kemerovo and Yakutsk. Mr Navalny’s supporters said they expected thousands of people to take part in similar demonstrations in 118 towns and cities.

“Your own life is at stake,” Mr Navalny, who organised the boycott protests, said in a pre-protest video.

“How many more years to do you want to live with these thieves, bigots and creeps?”

In Moscow, where a protest is expected later on Sunday, police forced their way into Mr Navalny’s office and started questioning and searching people, citing reports of a bomb, an online feed run by Mr Navalny’s supporters showed.

Police shut down a TV studio at the office which had been broadcasting online news bulletins, but another studio in a different location continued to operate.

Police detained six of Mr Navalny’s supporters at the Moscow studio and around 16 protesters in other parts of Russia, OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group, said.

It was unclear where Mr Navalny was, but a group of police officers was stationed near his home. Mr Navalny said he planned to attend the Moscow protest later on Sunday.

Police warned beforehand they would harshly suppress any illegal protest activity and authorities refused to authorise events in Moscow and St Petersburg, the country’s two biggest cities, raising the possibility of possible violence.

Mr Navalny, a lawyer who has campaigned against official corruption, was barred from running in the election by the central election commission in December over what he said was a trumped up suspended prison sentence.

The United States and the EU criticised the decision.

Mr Putin, who has dominated the Russian political landscape for the past 18 years, described US criticism of the election’s commission’s decision as crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs and suggested Navalny was Washington’s pick for the presidency.

Polls show Mr Navalny had scant chance of beating Mr Putin, but Mr Navalny says the system is rigged against political opponents like himself which makes polls meaningless.

Whilst there is little suspense about the outcome of the election, there is keen interest in voter turnout as media reports say the Kremlin wants to ensure Mr Putin is re-elected on a turnout of around 70 per cent or more as it sees high turnout as lending him greater legitimacy.


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