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Nearly 3,500 supporters of jailed opposition member Alexei Navalni were detained in Russia during a series of protests marked by episodes of violence and clashes with the police, which authorities were investigating on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in various Russian cities, from Moscow to Vladivostok (Far East) to demand the release of Navalni, a sworn enemy of the Kremlin and anti-corruption activist.
These unauthorized demonstrations resulted in arrests, sometimes brutal, and clashes between protesters and the police.
In total, the agents arrested almost 3,500 people, including 1,360 in Moscow and 523 in Saint Petersburg, the NGO OVD-Info, specialized in monitoring opposition demonstrations, said on Sunday.
The security forces thus carried out the largest number of arrests during opposition demonstrations in the history of modern Russia.
According to the chairman of the Kremlin’s Advisory Council for Human Rights, Valeri Fadeyev, most of the people arrested in Moscow during these “illegal” protests were released.
The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said he was concerned this Sunday about the “authoritarian drift” in Russia, a day after the United States and the European Union (EU) also condemned the repression of the protests.
Moscow for its part accused Washington of “interference” in the protests for Navalni’s freedom. His embassy in the Russian capital had published a list of the locations of the demonstration, urging Americans not to go.
– Violence from both sides –
The Russian Investigation Committee, in charge of the main criminal investigations in the country, announced on Saturday night to investigate the use of violence against the security forces during the protests.
In another statement, its local section in Saint Petersburg, the second largest city in the country, announced the arrest of a 36-year-old protester, accused of beating two policemen with his fists.
The Petersburg prosecutor’s office announced on Saturday night to investigate not only violence against the police, but also “by the forces of order.”
The public ministry released its statement after the broadcast in local media of a video in which a woman was seen falling to the ground after being kicked by an anti-riot agent.
The woman, identified as Margarita Yudina, asked three police officers in the video why they were detaining an unarmed young protester. One of the policemen kicked him in the stomach.
Yudina was hospitalized on Saturday night with a head injury, a representative from the Djanelidze hospital in St. Petersburg told AFP on Sunday.
Several cities across the country recorded clashes between police and protesters on Saturday, as tens of thousands of people protested shouting “Putin thief!” or “Navalni, we are with you!”
In Moscow, hundreds of people arrived on Saturday night at the Matroskaya Tishina prison, where Alexei Navalni is being held, in the north of the capital. The police dispersed them with truncheons and arrested some.
In preventive detention and the subject of several court cases against him, Navalni, 44, was arrested on January 17 upon his return from Germany, where he recovered from a poisoning that he attributes to the Kremlin.
In addition to calls to demonstrate, Navalni published an investigation, seen more than 70 million times since Tuesday on YouTube, into a lavish palace on the shores of the Black Sea, from which Putin would benefit.
The authorities reject both the accusations of poisoning and those of corruption and describe the opponent and those around him as “scammers”.
On Sunday, Leonid Volkov, a member of the Navalni team, told AFP that he was “very proud” of the protests and advanced that new ones could be called for “next weekend.”
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