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Politics & Government

Protests Erupt Across Russia Demanding Release Of Alexei Navalny

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Russia this weekend, people turned out in cities all across the country to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was jailed after returning to Moscow a week ago. Navalny had been in Germany, where he sought treatment after being poisoned with a rare nerve agent, a poisoning he blames on President Vladimir Putin. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The first protests started on Russia's Pacific coast when Moscow was still sound asleep. Hours later, when protesters got to Pushkin Square just a mile from the Kremlin, they were met by police in riot gear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking non-English language).

KIM: Police warned it was an illegal gathering and started making isolated arrests. That's when I met Anton Baranov (ph), a designer.

ANTON BARANOV: (Speaking non-English language).

KIM: "I'm afraid of getting arrested, but I'm ready for it," he said. "Alexei Navalny is an example for me because he isn't afraid." Navalny returned to Russia, even though the authorities had made clear they would arrest him under an old conviction the European Court of Human Rights has ruled as unfair. Another Moscow protester, business student Anton Svetushkov (ph), said this was his first rally ever.

ANTON SVETUSHKOV: It was my personal decision to show myself here. There is a certain point where you say, OK, now I have to go beyond my own insecurities and just step up.

KIM: After I spoke to Svetushkov, arrests picked up. There were some scuffles with police. And activists said more than 1,000 people were detained in Moscow alone. But Navalny's poisoning and now arrest have galvanized a new generation of Russians, like protester Maria Nechayeva (ph), a corporate lawyer.

MARIA NECHAYEVA: I hope that not today but maybe in years and years - not even maybe me but maybe my daughter or my son will live in a better country.

KIM: She calls Saturday's protest the first step on a long road. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.