Thousands protest in Russia demanding release of Alexey Navalny, hundreds detained

Russian police arrested more than 1,500 people and used force to break up rallies around the country as tens of thousands of protesters demanded the release of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, whose wife was among those detained.

Navalny had called on his supporters to protest on Saturday after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was applied to his underpants by state security agents in August.

The authorities had warned people to stay away from the protests, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event. But protesters defied the ban and bitter cold and turned out in force.

Protest monitoring groups said rallies took place in at least 70 towns and cities.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said on social media she had been detained at the rally. She was later released. Lyubov Sobol, a prominent aide of Navalny and lawyer, was also among those held.