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Russian opposition leader Navalny detained over illegal protest

© AFP/File | Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, seen here being arrested at a rally calling for a boycott of the March election, is one of the Kremlin's most outspoken critics

MOSCOW (AFP) - 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he was briefly detained Thursday for organising illegal protests as Russia prepares to hold presidential polls next month.

Navalny, who has been barred from challenging President Vladimir Putin in the election, now faces a court hearing and up to 30 days in prison after being formally charged over an unauthorised January 28 protest when he urged supporters to boycott the upcoming vote.

Writing on Twitter, the prominent Kremlin critic said: "I came out of the dentist's and what do you know -- the second operative (police) regiment, 'you're detained'."

The 41-year-old later wrote that he was taken to a police station where he was charged with repeatedly breaking rules on holding protests.

"I've been released pending trial. I don't know when the hearing will be," he said.

In a statement, city police said Navalny had been told to come to the police station to read the case materials but had not done so.

Navalny, who cannot contest the election because of a criminal conviction he says is politically motivated, was detained on January 28 during a Moscow rally but released later that day without facing court.

He suggested the delayed hearing was a move by the Kremlin to ensure he would be in prison during the run-up to the election.

- Campaign chief arrested -

At almost the same time as Navalny's arrest on Thursday, his campaign chief Leonid Volkov was detained at a Moscow airport with police charging him over the same January 28 protest.

With Russia pushing through a surge of legal action targeting Navalny's followers, a court on Thursday sentenced a man to a year in a penal colony for hitting a police officer during an anti-government rally in March 2017 that drew tens of thousands of protesters.

Six other participants in that demonstration have already been sentenced to between eight months and three years in penal colonies for "violence" against law enforcement officers.

And at another court hearing on Thursday, activist Roman Rubanov was sentenced to 10 days in jail for urging people to attend January's unauthorised rally on Twitter.

Navalny was also summoned for questioning this month by the powerful Investigative Committee over an allegation he attacked police during his detention after the rally.

If charged, he could face jail time.

Volkov on Tuesday tweeted that Navalny's supporters have already served a combined 2,433 days behind bars and had to pay a total of 13.4 million rubles ($237,000/192,000 euros) in various fines.

- Viral video -

The latest detentions come ahead of a march on Sunday in memory of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down three years ago on a bridge close to the Kremlin.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced Thursday that a commemorative plaque would be put up on the Moscow block where the former deputy prime minister with fiercely anti-Putin views lived.

Navalny has recently caused controversy with a viral video report alleging influential Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko enjoyed lavish hospitality from billionaire tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

On Wednesday, Navalny's anti-corruption foundation released a fresh YouTube video related to the allegations that has already been viewed more than 750,000 times.

Last week, Russia's media watchdog blocked Navalny's website.

Both Prikhodko and Deripaska deny the allegations.

Navalny has faced a string of administrative and criminal charges that he and his supporters see as politically motivated since he became the leading opposition figure campaigning against Putin's rule at mass rallies in 2011 and 2012.

© 2018 AFP