Moscow: The Russian police on Sunday detained Opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow as thousands rallied across the country against a March election expected to extend Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin term.
Surrounded by supporters, the 41-year-old charismatic politician chanted “Swindlers and thieves” before being detained shortly afterwards at an unsanctioned gathering in the city centre amid heavy police presence.
Mr Navalny urged Muscovites to take to the streets despite his arrest.
“You are not rallying for me, but for yourselves and your future,” he tweeted.
Heeding a call by Mr Putin’s bete noire, thousands braved freezing temperatures to stage rallies in dozens of cities to protest upcoming “pseudo-elections,” as Navalny and his supporters refer to them. Many chanted and brandished placards saying “Voters’ strike” and “Without me.”
About 3,000 to 4,000 people turned up for the unsanctioned rally in Moscow, AFP said.
Authorities beefed up security, dispatching police vans and passenger buses to the city centre, but police largely refrained from arresting protesters.
Ahead of the Moscow rally the police broke into Mr Navalny’s headquarters using a power saw, interrupting a live broadcast covering protests in the east of the country.