Supporters of jailed opposition leader scuffle with police as Moscow cracks down on protests in dozens of cities.
Scuffles broke out as supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny gathered in Khabarovsk on Saturday, despite authorities taking elaborate measures to curb demonstrations planned in more than 60 Russian cities.
In Moscow, which usually mobilises the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2pm (11:00 GMT) and march towards the Kremlin.
In a post on Instagram, Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said.
The city’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the call for rallies were “unacceptable” during a pandemic, and warned police would take action to ensure public order.
Navalny’s associates in Moscow and other regions have been detained in the lead-up to the rallies.
A 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner and Kremlin’s fiercest critic, Navalny was arrested on Sunday when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent nearly five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the government.
On Monday, a judge ordered Navalny jailed for 30 days.
Opposition supporters and independent journalists have been approached by police officers with official warnings against protesting on Saturday.
Universities and colleges in different Russian regions have urged students not to attend rallies, with some saying they may be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion.
Many Navalny allies this week voiced their support for the rallies on social media.
Thousands of videos appeared on the TikTok app popular among teenagers, which has become an emerging medium for Russians to voice their political views.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
Navalny faces a years-long prison term. Authorities accused him of violating the terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 conviction for financial misdeeds, including when he was convalescing in Germany.
After his arrest, his team released an investigation into a lavish Black Sea property allegedly owned by President Vladimir Putin, a claim the Kremlin denied.
The two-hour video report has been viewed more than 64 million times since its release on Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
Navalny’s arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.