Hundreds detained as protesters in Russia call for election boycott
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny and hundreds of protesters have been arrested at rallies across Russia calling for a boycott of the presidential election in March.
Mr Navalny called the rallies after he was barred from running against Vladimir Putin due to an embezzlement conviction that the European Court of Human Rights ruled was unfair.
Police arrested Mr Navalny soon after he arrived at the rally in the capital on Sunday afternoon. As he walked down Tverskaya Street toward the Kremlin, officers grabbed him and threw him to the ground, then dragged him into a waiting police van.
He has been charged with violating demonstration rules and could face another month-long jail term.
In power since 2000, Mr Putin enjoys high approval ratings and is expected to easily win another six-year term against several hopeless candidates offering only a weak challenge.
But surveys predicting a record low turnout have worried the Kremlin. Authorities refused to approve the demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Mr Navalny told The Telegraph in an interview this month that the boycott would “strike an additional blow to the legitimacy of the regime and Putin”.
At least 240 people were detained at the rallies, according to independent monitor OVD Info.
Although thousands of protesters came out around Russia, their numbers were fewer than those at demonstrations in March and June sparked by Mr Navalny’s viral video about prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s extravagant real estate holdings.
Several dozen cities participated, including Yakutsk in northeastern Russia, where demonstrators braved temperatures as low as -43C.
Yevgeny Roizman, the controversial independent governor of Yekaterinburg, told protesters there that “what we’re being offered now is not an election”.
Hundreds of people gathered on Moscow’s Pushkin square, ignoring repeated police warnings to clear the area. “Boycott!” “Putin’s a thief!” and “Down with the tsar!” they chanted, waving Navalny signs and Russian flags and occasionally climbing lampposts.
One group of schoolkids, fans of Mr Navalny’s popular YouTube channel, came with a white flower to give to riot police if they were arrested.
“Elections without competition are not real. Navalny is the main competitor to Putin,” said Sergei Shepilov, 16. “They’re not officially letting him run, that’s why this election is illegal,”
Gleb Shuvalov, 18, also planned to boycott March’s election, the first he could have voted in. He said Mr Navalny wasn’t ideal but at least could provide an alternative to presidential candidates like Kremlin-loyal nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is running for the sixth time.
“Why do we need old people? We need new viewpoints, so that there will be new politics, new measures,” he said.
"Boycott!" Some teens try to reinvigorate the quickly fading protest pic.twitter.com/Ur5wJqhrp9
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) January 28, 2018
One woman at the protest attempted to slit her own throat, saying she no longer wanted to live under Mr Putin, but was stopped before she could cut, RTVi channel reported.
Citing a supposed bomb threat, police raided Mr Navalny’s Moscow on Sunday morning and shut down a YouTube broadcast about the rallies.
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The broadcast soon resumed from a different makeshift studio, starting a game of cat-and-mouse in which police reportedly sawed through another two doors. Mr Navalny appeared via video link from a hiding place, giving his location as the address where Mr Putin is officially registered.
The boycott rallies are the latest iteration of a year-long campaign in which Mr Navalny has stumped in regional cities amid frequent harassment by the authorities.
“How many more years will you live under this regime of crooks, hardliners and creeps?” he said in another video before the protests. “Come and demonstrate your physical existence as a person who refuses to be turned into speechless cattle and demands normal elections.”