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Russian opposition leader kept under house arrest

A Russian court rejected Friday a request by prosecutors to jail top opposition leader Alexei Navalny who will remain under house arrest during a high-profile trial seen as politically motivated by his supporters.

The court “refused the request to arrest Alexei Navalny” for allegedly using the Internet in breach of his house arrest conditions, said his spokeswoman Kira Yarmish.

“For us it is clear that this is a politically motivated case from start to finish,” she added.

One of the most vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin, Navalny faces charges of stealing and laundering 27 million roubles ($760,000, 570,000 euros) from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. He has been under house arrest since February and banned from using the Internet.

During a closed-door hearing at a Moscow district court, a prosecutor had asked for Navalny to be moved to jail following a request from the prison service (FSIN), according to one of Navalny’s aides.

“Prosecutors have evidence that Navalny has used the Internet,” Nikolai Lyaskin told AFP from the court earlier Friday.

A spokesman for the prison service declined to comment.

Navalny’s supporters fear the trial could result in a lengthy prison term, a move that would deliver a huge blow to Russia’s already demoralised opposition.

Last July, the activist was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in jail in a separate case but walked free the following day in a surprise move that allowed him to run a high-profile campaign for Moscow mayor.

The 38-year-old anti-corruption blogger dismisses these and other charges against him as a Kremlin attempt to punish him for daring to oppose Putin.

In a post on his supporter-maintained blog, Navalny remained defiant, saying this second threat to toss him back into jail hadn’t scared him.

“Of course it is unpleasant, especially for my family of course, but they would do better to have somebody with a sheet over them run out of the courtroom and yell ‘Boo’.”