Updated at 12:38 p.m. ET
Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in protest on Saturday to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, braving the threat of mass arrests in what was expected to be one of the largest demonstrations against the Kremlin in years.
From the port city of Vladivostok in the east to the capital of Moscow seven time zones away in the west, protesters swept across the country in open defiance of warnings from Russian authorities that the demonstrations have been deemed illegal.
In Moscow, protesters gathered in Pushkin Square for what appeared to be the largest of the day’s protests. They were met by police trucks and city buses filled with riot officers, who blared messages from a public-address system telling demonstrators not to gather closely due to the risks of the coronavirus and warning them that the protest was unlawful. In all, Navalny supporters said that protests were planned across 90 cities, including the Siberian city of Yakutsk, where temperatures plunged to minus 60 Fahrenheit.
Police and protesters clashed in multiple cities and by 5 p.m. Moscow time more than 1,300 demonstrators across the country had been detained, according to OVD-Info, an activist group that monitors arrests at protests. Among those detained was Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who shared a photo of herself from inside what she said was a paddy wagon.
“They can’t put everybody in jail. There are many people and I don’t think that we have enough jails to put everyone in there,” said Maria Nechayeva, 27, an attorney at an IT company who was attending the protest in Moscow.
Mass demonstrations had been widely expected in the aftermath of Navalny’s arrest on Jan. 17 upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent the last five months recovering from a near-fatal poisoning. German doctors said that Navalny was poisoned with a variant of the Soviet-era nerve agent known as Novichok. Navalny has blamed the Kremlin for the poisoning — a charge Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied.
“We haven’t seen protest activity like that for many…
Go to the news source: Protesters Across Russia Call For Release Of Alexei Navalny : NPR