Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released after thousands turned out to protest the upcoming March presidential elections.
"I'm free," Navalny wrote on Twitter late Sunday.
He added, "Today has been an important day. We have shown that not all Russia is ready to accept the monarchy. . . Thanks to all those who were not afraid to fight for their rights."
Police arrested Navalny while he was on his way to a rally in central Moscow.
The protests were part of a nationwide “Voters Strike” called by Navalny. The opposition leader has been banned from running for president over legal problems. The move was seen as an attempt to keep him out of the race.
Vladimir Milov, an advisor for Navalny, told VOA “We demand a real contest.”
He said that even supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned why Navalny is not permitted to participate in the election.
He added, “They believe Putin can beat Navalny, and we believe Navalny can beat Putin. That’s what elections are all about.”
Navalny and his supporters have called for a boycott of the election. They argue that a low number of voters will diminish a Putin victory. But it will prove that the government inflates his approval ratings.
Most protestors were younger Russians
Organizers said that protests took place in over 100 cities across Russia.
OVD-Info, a police-monitoring group, reported 340 people had been detained nationwide.
In Moscow, police also stormed Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and cut an online video feed of the day’s protests.
Most of the protestors were younger Russians, in their teens and early 20s.
Ivan Savin is a high school student who attended the rally. He said, “The authorities are used to thinking that Russians will just sit quietly and wait for change. Well, our generation won’t wait. We want a better life.”
He also admitted to telling his parents he was “out with friends” for the day rather than out protesting the Russian president.
His classmate, Valerie Koltsov, said that other friends felt the same way.
“I know a lot of people who don’t come because it really does scare them. They think they’ll get fined for not doing what the government tells them,” she said.
Another candidate asks for support
Television host Ksenia Sobchak is running in the election against Putin. She asked the anti-Putin forces to voice their anger by supporting her “Against All” candidacy.
But Navalny’s supporters have called her campaign a Kremlin trick to make the election appear fair.
In Moscow, Ludmilla Sidodova, a veteran of the massive pro-democratic movement of the late-Soviet period, argued real change required a much larger movement. She was among hundreds of thousands who once demanded change, and suggested a new generation could learn from that history.
She said, “I wish they’d understand that we did what we could. Maybe it wasn’t always enough. But now it depends on them. Whatever life they decide they want is the life they’ll have.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Charles Maynes reported this story for VOA. Susan Shand adapted the story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
participate – v. to be involved with others in doing something: to take part in an activity or event with others
diminish – v. to lessen the authority or reputation of someone or something
inflate – v. to think or say something is larger or more important than it really is
monitor – v. to watch, observe, listen to or check something for a special purpose over a period of time