Kremlin critic Navalny urges nationwide protests on Putin’s birthday

Russian opposition leader urges supporters to demand Kremlin to allow genuine political competition with protests in 80 cities, on Saturday

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained for most of the day on Friday (Photo: ABC News)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained for most of the day on Friday (Photo: ABC News)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is currently plotting to dampen Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday celebrations, with nation-wide protest rallies on Saturday.

“Let Putin listen and go into deserved retirement,” Navalny said in an angry message dictated from prison in which he also likened the Russian president to a turnip. “He’s been in power for 18 years, which is long enough.”

The 41-year-old anti-corruption lawyer, who is looking to run for president next year, urged his supporters to demand that the Kremlin allow genuine political competition. Navalny’s campaign team says protests are being organised in 80 cities, all over Russia.

Such are the latest stage in Navalny’s bid to force his way on to the ballot for the March 2018 presidential elections.

Russia’s government-controlled election committee says he is ineligible to stand for public office because of a previous conviction for fraud. Navalny, who is currently serving his third prison sentence since March, said that the charges were built up to stifle his political ambitions.

Authorities in St Petersburg, where Putin was born on 7 October 1942, had previously refused to give Navalny permission to meet with his supporters on Saturday.

“We weren’t intending to offer or provide Navalny with any venue for a rally,” the city’s vice-governor, Konstantin Serov, said. “We will never do this.”

Officials also refused to sanction protest rallies in Moscow, and police have warned that anyone attending risks getting arrested. At least 1,750 people were detained in Russia on 12 June during anti-Putin protests called by Navalny.

Putin has not yet officially announced that he will run for a new six-year presidential term in March. Few analysts doubt, however, he will seek to extend his rule to 2024. Putin has called opposition figures such as Navalny “national traitors”.

An opinion poll published by a state-run pollster on Thursday gave Putin an 82% approval rate. Around 2% of Russians say they would vote for Navalny. However, Navalny had similar low ratings before he stood for Moscow mayor in 2013 but eventually took almost 30% of the vote after running an energetic, western-style election campaign.

Navalny, who is barred from speaking on national television, mocked Putin’s sky-high approval rates in his message from behind bars.

“This is the same as asking someone who has been fed turnip all their life – how do you rate the edibility of turnip? The rating will be quite high,” he said. “[But] there are better things than turnips… If we don’t do something, they’ll be feeding us that damned turnip all our lives.”

Navalny’s election campaign has attracted tens of thousands of people as volunteers and raised over a million pounds in donations from ordinary Russians. It has also provoked violence from pro-Kremlin activists and thugs with suspected links to the government. In April, Navalny suffered serious eye injuries after an assailant threw a harmful chemical into his face.

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