Breaking News-Alexei Navalny: Many arrested in protests across Russia

Police are also breaking up groups of his supporters gathered in the capital Moscow, ahead of a large protest there.

Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia's Far East, where there were also arrests.

Mr Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.

He was detained last Sunday after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.

On his return, he was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.

Several of Mr Navalny's close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to Saturday's protests.

Prior to the protests, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorised demonstrations and provocations will be "immediately suppressed".

What's happened so far?

Russia's Far East saw some of the first protests on Saturday, but reports conflict over how many of Mr Navalny's supporters turned up.

One independent news source, Sota, said at least 3,000 people had joined a demonstration in the city of Vladivostok but local authorities there put the figure at 500.

AFP footage showed riot police in Vladivostok running into a crowd, and beating some of the protesters with batons

Meanwhile protesters braved temperatures of -50C (-58F) in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 200 people had been detained so far in 30 cities across the country.

Unauthorised rallies are planned in more than 60 cities across the country, with one in Moscow's central Pushkin Square due to start at 14:00 local time (11:00 GMT).

However, a number of people have already been detained at the square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter protesters. Reuters quotes a witness saying at least 100 people may have been detained there.

Meanwhile, there were reports of disruption to mobile phone and internet coverage in Russia on Saturday - though it is not known if this is related to the protests.

The social media app TikTok, which is popular among teenagers, had been flooded with videos from Russians promoting Saturday's protests and viral messages about Mr Navalny.

Russia's education ministry has told parents not to allow their children to attend any demonstrations.

Which aides were detained?

Several of Mr Navalny's key aides were taken into police custody in the days leading up to Saturday's protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, and one of his lawyers, Lyubov Sobol. They face fines or short jail terms.

Ms Sobol has since been released, but Ms Yarmysh has now been jailed for nine days.

image captionNavalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh is accused of violating protest laws

Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar.

In a push to gain support ahead of the protests, Mr Navalny's team released a video about a luxury Black Sea resort that they allege belongs to President Putin - an accusation denied by the Kremlin.

The video has been watched by more than 65m people.

Why Navalny makes the Kremlin nervous

For a long time the Russian authorities made out that Alexei Navalny was irrelevant. Just a blogger. With a tiny following. No threat whatsoever.

Recent events suggest the opposite. First Mr Navalny was targeted with a nerve agent, allegedly by a secret group of FSB state security hitmen. Instead of investigating the poisoning, Russia is investigating him: on his return from Germany the Kremlin critic was arrested.

Having put Mr Navalny behind bars, the authorities are putting pressure on his supporters. The Kremlin's greatest fear is of a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia that would sweep away those in power.

There's no indication that such a scenario is imminent. But with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday's potential protests.

Plus, this is getting personal. Mr Navalny's video about "Putin's Palace" on the Black Sea was designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Russian president.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Mr Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

He attempted to stand in the 2018 presidential race, but was barred because of an embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.

media captionAlexei Navalny was filmed by the BBC saying goodbye to his wife and then being led away by authorities

An outspoken blogger, he has millions of Russian followers on social media and managed to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020.

Last August, Mr Navalny, 44, was almost killed in a nerve agent attack, which he blamed personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies involvement. The opposition politician's allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

Russia has come under pressure from the US and EU to release Mr Navalny after his arrest last weekend when he returned to the country for the first time since his poisoning.

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