Russian police detain opposition leader after he appears at rally

Michael Klimentyev

Hundreds of supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny began a nationwide day of protest against the authorities on Sunday, calling on voters to boycott what they said was a rigged presidential election on March 18.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic - was arrested when he was on his way to a protest in Moscow. Police reported protests in more than two dozen cities, according to official media.

Last year Navalny mounted a forceful bid to run for president but officials ruled him ineligible due to a criminal conviction which he says is politically motivated. According to CNN, he faces 30 days in detention and a fine if convicted.

Navalny emerged as a threat to the Kremlin's tight grip on power on June 12 past year, when thousands of his followers defied police prohibitions to protest in cities across Russian Federation.

Elsewhere, there were 600 demonstrators in Russia's third-most populous city, Novosibirsk, and 550 protesters in Nizhny Novgorod in western Russian Federation, the ministry said.

Navalny, no stranger to public dissent and arrests, called for Sunday's protests last month after he was barred from running in March's presidential elections against Putin, who will be seeking his fourth term and whose victory is all but a foregone conclusion.

"Vladimir Putin has once again thrown Alexei Navalny in jail because he is afraid of his own people-and what they would do if they were free", Cotton said in a statement.

By 1830 Moscow time (1530 GMT), police had detained 257 protesters nationwide, according to OVD-Info, a non-governmental group that tracks the arrests.

Mr Navalny called on supporters to continue the demonstrations despite his arrest overnight.

But many protesters said Sunday authorities would not intimidate them. Several hundred stood there, chanting, "Putin is a thief" and "Russia without Putin". A few metres from where Navalny was detained, a tour guide was telling a group of clients about the history of a pre-revolutionary mansion. After 18 years of leadership, both as president and prime minister, Putin fatigue is spreading across Russian Federation.

Many voters credit him with restoring stability after the turbulence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and of rebuilding Russia's influence overseas through his foreign policy. Rallies were held to oppose the upcoming presidential election.

"Putin has been in power for 18 years now", he said.

Police arrested at least 240 people around the protests across Russian Federation, according to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors arrests.

"I've been detained. That doesn't matter". Officers also arrived at the offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, using power tools to cut through the door where supporters were conducting a live YouTube broadcast, Navalny said on a broadcast from a backup studio later.

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