Putin rival Navalny faces jail after arrest at Moscow protest
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released from police custody late last night following his arrest at a rally in Moscow calling for the boycott of a March presidential election that he said would be a rigged.
Navalny's lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said that her client had been released without charge but would have to face court at a later date.
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 yesterday. 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 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 said this month 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.
Protesters in Yakutsk, northeastern Russia, braved temperatures as low as -43C.
Yevgeny Roizman, the controversial independent governor of Yekaterinburg, told protesters: "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 banners.
"Elections without competition are not real. Navalny is the main competitor to Putin," said Sergei Shepilov (16). "They're not letting him run, that's why this election is illegal."
Gleb Shuvalov (18) also plans to boycott the March 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.
Citing a supposed bomb threat, police raided Mr Navalny's Moscow flat yesterday and shut down a YouTube broadcast about the rallies.