Navalny supporters call for fresh protests across Russia

Supporters of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have called for more rallies this weekend to demand his release from pre-trial detention over parole violations he denies.

One of Navalny’s leading allies, the lawyer and politician Lyubov Sobol, told reporters on Tuesday that his anti-corruption movement would continue to operate despite many people being detained after protests in Russian cities last weekend.

As criminal cases were launched against those detained by police, a woman who was kicked to the ground by a baton-wielding police officer in St Petersburg has emerged as a symbol of the heavy-handed way the authorities cracked down on the protesters.

The case of Margarita Yudina, 54, has become a national scandal after footage of her being kicked in the stomach by a police officer for asking why he and his colleagues had detained a fellow protester went viral online.

In the video, Yudina is seen falling back on the pavement after being kicked, banging her head hard. Hospital documents show she sustained concussion and needed stitches to the back of her head.

Although the officer visited her in hospital and apologised, Yudina told Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Tuesday that she wanted justice.

“This case needs to run its legal course,” she said. “So I intend to appeal to the Investigative Committee and to find out who attacked me. I want the person who kicked me to be found, named and punished according to the law.”

The Kremlin said the “violence” by some protesters was unprecedented and aggressive. Incidences of police violence were far fewer and being investigated, it said.

But Navalny’s supporters were undeterred, Sobol said, and would continue with demonstrations calling for his release despite “arrests of our followers and allies, open criminal probes [and] criminal probes that are yet to come”.

She said they planned planned protests on 31 January and 2 February, when a court is scheduled to consider motions to convert Navalny’s suspended sentence into a real prison term.

She added that one of their goals was to stop President Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, in the upcoming parliamentary balloting.

“There are lots of plans and tasks for the near future, [as well as] mid-term and long-term [ones], and everyone understands what needs to be done both tomorrow and a month from now, and half a year from now,” Sobol said.

“One of the main goals is to … destroy the monopoly of United Russia in the parliamentary election that will take place this September.”

The crackdown on the protesters continued to bring international outrage. The top diplomats of the United States, Britain, Canada, France Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as the high representative of the European Union, condemned the “politically motivated arrest and detention” of Navalny and said they were “deeply concerned by the detention of thousands of peaceful protesters and journalists”.

Joe Biden raised concerns about the case when he spoke to Putin for the first time as US president on Tuesday.


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