Opposition blogger hails 'new Russia' after release
Anti-Kremlin blogger Alexei Navalny on Wednesday hailed a new Russia and warned of more opposition protests after his release from jail for taking part in an unsanctioned rally against election results.
Navalny, who has become a figurehead for the opposition through his blog that exposes corruption and his criticism of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was freed from a police station in Moscow, the Solidarnost (Solidarity) opposition movement said.
He was jailed for 15 days after taking part in the first of a wave of protests that shook the Kremlin after the December 4 polls won by Putin's party United Russia but that the opposition says were riddled with fraud.
"What has happened is amazing. We were jailed in one country and freed in another," Navalny said after his overnight release from jail.
Tens of thousands of people protested on December 10 against the election results while Navalny was still in jail, in the biggest show of public discontent to hit Russia since the turbulent 1990s.
With the opposition planning a new mass rally on Saturday, Navalny vowed to do everything to ensure that the protest wave moved further.
"We will undertake extraordinary, impossible efforts to call on people to attend the meeting on December 24," he said.
"We will go out onto the streets until our legal and common sense demands are fulfilled," he said, calling for all political parties to be registered and re-runs of the election wherever fraud was proven.
Navalny became one of Russia's most followed bloggers on LiveJournal (http://navalny.livejournal.com/) after he coined the phrase "swindlers and thieves" to describe United Russia, a slogan now taken up by the entire opposition.
He refused to rule out challenging Putin in March 2012 presidential elections where the Russian strongman is seeking a historic third Kremlin term in polls the opposition fears will also be rigged.
"One of my demands is for free presidential elections. In these new elections I think that many people will take part, possibly including myself," he said in a video statement posted on LiveJournal.
"Right now the party of swindlers and thieves is nominating for president its chief swindler and thief," he added, referring to Putin.
He said that protesters need to take to the streets to "show our power" in order to oust Putin but added that there was no need to "make noise and set fire to shops to achieve this."
Also freed overnight was opposition leader Ilya Yashin who was arrested at the same time as Navalny during the December 5 protest that ended with mass arrests as the protestors marched on a central square.
Another 10 activists who took part in the protest were also freed, Solidarnost added.
Whereas the initial protests against the election results in Moscow ended in hundreds of arrests, the December 10 protest was peaceful despite attracting tens of thousands of people.
The new protest on Saturday has also been agreed with the authorities and over 30,000 people have vowed on Facebook to attend.
Moscow police said Wednesday they expected Saturday's meeting on the fringes of the city centre to pass off peacefully and were not sending any additional reinforcements into the Russian capital.
"The meeting has been sanctioned, this is a normal situation and thus the numbers of forces deployed will come from within existing norms," an interior ministry source told the Interfax news agency.
© 2011 AFP