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Putin critic Navalny calls for protests as brother jailed

AFP | Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians to take to the streets in protest after a court on Tuesday handed him a suspended sentence, but jailed his brother, in a controversial fraud case.

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Navalny, 38, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, 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.

Warning from Moscow police

Supporters of the opposition leader planned to gather near the Kremlin on Tuesday afternoon, but Moscow police rushed to declare it would prevent any illegal protests in the Russian capital.

"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.

Some 18,000 people said they planned to attend the rally on Facebook.

Trucks carrying police were seen in central Moscow and news agencies reported that exits from the metro to Manezhnaya Square – the location of the planned gathering - will be shut to the public.

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.

Currently under house arrest, Navalny is serving a suspended five-year prison term for a separate conviction last year.

Moscow denies allegations that it uses the courts to persecute opponents.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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