At least 100,000 people demanded on Saturday the release of Alexei Navalny and the resignation of Vladimir Putin around Russia. Protests took place also in 70 world cities.
In Russia, thousands of people were arrested during demonstrations for the release of the imprisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny. OWD civil rights activists counted more than 3,324 arrests, of which at least 1,320 were in Moscow and more than 490 in St. Petersburg. In total, demonstrators have been held in police custody in more than 100 cities. According to the government-sponsored broadcaster Echo Moscow, 300 of the arrested were young people. The police have not yet given any figures. Several people were injured in clashes with police in Moscow.
The protests, according to BBC, took also place in 76 world cities in USA, Canada, Europe, Middle East, Africa, South-East Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
In Moscow, Navalny's wife Ms Yulia Navalnaya was also arrested and held for few hours at the police station. Please excuse the poor image quality, wrote Ms. Navalnaya to a photo she published on Instagram. It shows her in a police prisoner van in the Russian capital. Mr. Navalny's anti-corruption foundation FBK later announced on Twitter that the oppositionist's wife had since been released.
More than 100,000 protesters nationwide
In many cities, for example in the far east of Russia, the protests had started several hours earlier than in Moscow due to the time difference. According to some reports, emergency services did not intervene but let the demonstrators have their way. Nationwide, more than 100,000 people demonstrated for the release of Navalny, including in the Far East of Yakutsk at temperatures of minus 56 degrees. In many cities, it was the largest demonstration in years. Navalny employee Leonid Volkov spoke of up to 300,000 protesters and announced new demonstrations for the coming weekend.
In Moscow, Mr. Navalny's supporters said more than 50,000 participants, Reuters estimated more than 40,000 and Putin's police stated a lower amount of the protesters took part in the demonstration. In the evening, there were still serious clashes with the notorious OMON special police. Protesters broke barriers with metal bars and threw fireworks and snowballs. In return, the uniformed men beat the mostly young demonstrators with batons.
In the capital, the police took action against protesters before the official start of the demonstration. AFP reporters reported that emergency services handcuffed people and led them into prisoner trucks. Mr. Navalny's closest colleague, lawyer Ms. Lyubov Sobol, was also arrested. Later, hundreds gathered near the top-security prison "Matrovskaya Tishina" in Moscow, where Navalny was held.
In Khabarovsk, a city in Siberia, activists posted videos of police officers beating protesters and putting them in prisoner trucks. In Khabarovsk, people's discontent is also directed against the imprisonment of the popular ex-governor Mr. Sergei Furgal in the summer. Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered in the cities of Vladivostok and Irkutsk. They chanted, "We are the power" and "Putin is a liar".
More than 40 police officers injured
The regime's agency Tass reported more than 40 armed police were injured in the protests. Accordingly, it is mainly a matter of minor injuries. Nobody was taken to the hospital. Protesters threw snowballs at the emergency services. The Ria Novosti state agency reported that three police officers had been doused with white paint.
Mr. Navalny's supporters had called for protests in more than 90 Russian cities. The authorities threatened heavy fines for participating in the unauthorized rallies. Numerous fellow campaigners of the opposition politician had already been arrested in the past few days, including his press spokeswoman Ms. Kira Yarmysch.
EU foreign representative criticizes the approach
The EU foreign affairs representative, Mr. Josep Borrell criticized the brutality of the Russian police. Mr. Borrel stated that he regretted the numerous arrests, the disproportionate use of force, the restriction of Internet and telephone connections. He was concerned and would discuss the EU's next steps with the foreign ministers of the EU states at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.
As early as the middle of the week, representatives of member states had described new EU sanctions for the detention of Mr. Navalny as a realistic option. A decision will probably only be made if Russian opposition leader is to be held in custody for a longer period. At the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels there will only be an initial exchange of views on the subject.
Russian opposition members, on the other hand, are calling on the EU to speed up the sanctioning of Putin's confidants. "Hunt them down, follow their flow of money," said former opposition chess world champion Mr. Garry Kasparov: "Stop playing with the mafia." The funds are ready to freeze the fortunes of Putin's billionaire friends in the West. Together with the former oligarch Mr. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Mr. Kasparov called for the sanctioning instrument that the EU had decided to use in December to combat human rights violations to be used.
The new US administration also condemned the "harsh methods" used by the Russian security forces in dealing with journalists and demonstrators and demanded the release of all those arrested. US State Department demanded the "immediate and unconditional release" of Mr. Navalny. The Russian government had previously accused US diplomats of having actively participated in the protests: The US embassy in Moscow had published routes that the protesters reportedly used, Foreign Office spokeswoman Maria Sakharova wrote on Facebook. US diplomats had spread information about a "march on the Kremlin". But the publication was a warning for US citizens to warn that they may be arrested had they appear at the illegal meetings.
More than 70 million watched "A Palace for Putin"
Mr. Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in prison in a controversial urgent procedure in Moscow on Monday. The 44-year-old is said to have violated reporting requirements in previous criminal proceedings while he was recovering from an attack in Germany. But it was not true since Mr. Navalny would inform the Russian court about his place of staying as he was demanded. He was receiving from Moscow a correspondence to his address, and he would reply accordingly. His suspended sentence in the unjust political trial expired in December. The European Court in Hague called the accusations against Mr. Navalny unfounded and the sentence unjust.
Nevertheless, in Putin's Russia, he faces further trials and many years in prison. Behind the attack against him with the Novichok neurotoxin, a chemical weapon of mass destruction, on August 20, he sees a "killer squad" of the FSB domestic intelligence service under Vladimir Putin's orders. Putin and the FSB deny the allegations.
Earlier this week, Mr. Navalny's team released a documentary that aims to prove that the president used bribes from friends and henchmen in high positions in the state apparatus and large corporations to build a huge estate on the shore of the Black Sea that cost more than a billion US dollars should. The almost two-hour film had more than 70 million views on YouTube after a few days. The Kremlin describes the allegations as "nonsense" and "lies".