Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained by police outside his apartment in southern Moscow after calling on supporters to mount an unsanctioned protest near the Kremlin, his supporters said.
Presidential hopeful Navalny had announced rallies against official corruption Monday, the Russia Day holiday, and protesters gathered in numerous other cities.
In Moscow, Navalny called on supporters to gather starting at 2 p.m. in Tverskaya Street, a central thoroughfare, after complaining that the government prevented him from hiring a stage and sound equipment to hold his demonstration in an agreed location elsewhere in the city. There was no immediate police comment on his detention. The studio for his YouTube channel also suffered a power outage around the same time, his staff wrote in Twitter.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office said the planned rally is illegal and that police will "be forced to take all necessary measures to prevent provocations, mass unrest,” according to a website statement.
At the same time, police wouldn’t interfere with participants marching down Tverskaya without placards and slogans, Ekho Moskvy radio station cited a Moscow security official as saying. Navalny’s Twitter account later carried similar information. TV Rain quoted the same city official as denying any effort to sabotage the sanctioned protest.
Downtown is already full of people celebrating the holiday, accompanied by a large police presence.
President Vladimir Putin vowed to punish people who broke the law after an estimated 60,000 people protested in March at anti-corruption rallies organized by Navalny that were mostly unsanctioned in 80 cities across Russia, the biggest unrest in five years. Police arrested 1,500 people nationwide, including more than 1,000 in Moscow, and a handful are being prosecuted for attacking police.
The nationwide scale of the March protests and the participation of a large number of young people came as a surprise to the Kremlin, which faces an uphill task to ensure a decisive re-election for Putin in nine months’ time amid a steep fall in living standards after the longest recession in two decades.
A rally in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city that’s almost 3,000 kilometers (2,000 miles) east of the capital, brought out about 5,000 people, local organizer Sergey Boyko said on Navalny’s YouTube broadcast. Omsk, also in Siberia, saw at least 1,500 gather on the banks of the Irtysh River, with about 2,000 attending a demonstration in Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, according to Navalny’s Twitter account.
An opposition organizer for Navalny in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast was detained and fined for illegally organizing a rally, according to state news service RIA Novosti, which cited a regional lawmaker.
Navalny has said he wants to contest the March presidential election, in which Putin is expected to run, though the authorities say the opposition figure is barred from running for office because of a fraud conviction he says is politically motivated.