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Kremlin critic Navalny arrested at Moscow protest

Anton Belitsky, Twitter | Picture shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny being arrested by Moscow police on December 30, 2014..

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday broke his house arrest to join a protest in Moscow after a Russian court handed him a suspended sentence for embezzlement and jailed his brother. Navalny was promptly arrested.

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Navalny, 38, was swiftly detained on his way to the rally in Moscow after he announced on social media that he had defied his house arrest and was on his way to join the rally.

"Yes, there is this house arrest. But today I want to be with you. So I'm coming," said Navalny had said on his Twitter feed, posting a picture of himself on the Moscow metro.

Navalny was grabbed by police and bundled into a police bus close to Manezhnaya Square, where several hundred protesters gathered to protest a guilty verdict handed down to him and his younger brother Oleg in a controversial fraud trial.

Outspoken critic

An outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, Navalny was found guilty on Tuesday of embezzling money from French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher, in what many observers called a politically motivated case.

But while Navalny’s sentence was suspended, his younger brother, who is not involved in politics, was ordered to serve three and half years in a penal colony.

"This regime does not just destroy its political opponents... now they target, torture and torment the relatives of its political opponents," Navalny told reporters outside the Moscow court, calling the verdict "the most mean and disgusting" possible.

"This regime has no right to exist, it must be destroyed," he said. "I call on everyone to take to the streets today."

The ruling was widely seen as an attempt to muzzle Navalny ahead of the 2018 presidential election by taking his brother hostage. Navalny was already subject to house arrest for a separate conviction last year.

Warning from Moscow police

Supporters of the opposition leader started gathering in Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Tuesday afternoon, defying warnings by Moscow police that it would prevent people from assembling.

"According to the law, all unsanctioned actions will be prevented by the security forces. There is no other alternative," the capital's security department head Alexei Mayorov told Interfax news agency.

A rally had been set for January 15, the original date of the verdict, but those plans were scrapped when authorities moved the ruling to Tuesday, with just a few hours warning, making it impossible to request authorisation for a protest at such short notice.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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