MOSCOW | Russian police deployed a major device on Sunday and closed access to the center of several cities during new demonstrations across the country to demand the release of the opponent Alexeï Navalny.
According to the organization OVD-Info, which specializes in monitoring protests in Russia, more than 650 arrests have taken place in at least 50 cities, for the time being mainly in Siberia and the Far East, due to jet lag.
These rallies follow a first day of mobilization last Saturday, which brought together tens of thousands of protesters and resulted in more than 4,000 arrests, as well as the opening of about twenty criminal cases.
In the hypercentre of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, many police officers and the National Guard were deployed before rallies scheduled for early afternoon, AFP correspondents noted.
“Putin is a thief!”, “Freedom!” Chanted dozens of protesters as they passed through the center of the Russian capital, the location of the rally having been changed at the last minute due to restrictions by the police, who limited access to several central streets and closed metro stations, a rare decision.
These new demonstrations will take place against the backdrop of the appearance of Alexey Navalny before judges, scheduled for next week. The opponent has been the target of multiple legal proceedings since his return to Russia on January 17, proceedings he considers politically motivated.
According to his lawyer, he risks in particular “about two and a half years” in prison for the violation of the conditions of a suspended sentence of three and a half years in prison, which he was inflicted in 2014.
“Do not be afraid”
Across the country, in Vladivostok, Andrei, a 25-year-old protester, regretted that few people, a few dozen, had gathered because “riot forces blocked” the city center.
In Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest metropolitan area, independent media outlet Taiga estimated the number of protesters at over 5,000, one of the largest anti-government rallies in recent years.
“People are angry because of what is happening and because deputies and opposition activists have been arrested this week,” Khelga Pirogova, local elected member of a pro-Navalny coalition, told AFP.
Most of his close allies were placed under house arrest on Friday by Russian justice, two days after a series of searches that included the home of his wife Yulia and the premises of his organization, the Anti-Corruption Fund.
In the previous days, the authorities have repeatedly warned supporters of Mr. Navalny. Police said protesters could be prosecuted for “mass riots” if the rallies lead to violence.
Russian telecoms gendarme Roskomnadzor announced for his part that he was going to sanction social networks for leaving messages online encouraging, according to him, minors to go and demonstrate.
Despite the pressure, Alexeï Navalny again called on the Russians on Thursday to take to the streets. “Don’t be afraid,” he wrote in a letter posted to his blog. “The majority are on our side. Let’s go wake her up. “
The protests are also fueled by the dissemination of an investigation by the opponent accusing President Vladimir Putin of benefiting from a huge “palace” on the shores of the Black Sea, an investigation which has been viewed more than 100 million times. on Youtube.
Vladimir Poutine denied these accusations intended to “brainwash” the Russians, while public television broadcast images showing the residence still under construction, far from the luxury described by the opponent.
On Saturday, billionaire Arkadi Rotenberg, a close friend of Mr. Putin who was his former judo partner and who is under Western sanctions, claimed to be the real owner of the residence and assured that he was in the process of building there hotel.
Anti-corruption activist and sworn enemy of the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny, 44, returned to Russia on January 17 after months of convalescence in Germany for suspected poisoning, for which he accuses Vladimir Putin and the Russian security services of being responsible. .