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European Parliament Blasts Russia Over Navalny, Protest Clampdown


Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who was arrested during March 26 anti-corruption rally,gestures during an appeal hearing at a court in Moscow, March 30, 2017

BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the "immediate release and dropping of all charges" against Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny "and all the peaceful protesters and journalists detained after the recent demonstrations in Russia."

The April 6 declaration, which was supported by all political groups in the European Union's Strasbourg-based parliament, also condemned what it called Russian police operations that it said were "attempting to prevent and disperse peaceful anticorruption demonstrations and detaining hundreds of citizens."

Tens of thousands of people took part in peaceful anticorruption demonstrations in dozens of Russian cities on March 26, the largest protests against President Vladimir Putin's government in five years.

Police detained more than 1,000 people in Moscow alone, including Navalny, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail for resisting police and fined the equivalent of $350 for organizing the protest in the capital.

The European Parliament resolution condemned "the constant efforts to silence Aleksei Navalny" and expressed support for his Anticorruption Foundation's "efforts to raise awareness of and combat corruption in public institutions and among political representatives and public office holders."

It also expressed "deep concern" over a February court decision that it said "effectively excludes Aleksei Navalny from the political arena," a reference to his conviction upon retrial in a financial-crimes case under which he initially received a five-year suspended sentence in 2013.

Authorities say the conviction bars Navalny, who is seeking to run for president in March 2018, from public office.

Navalny denies wrongdoing and says the case, like another one in which he was convicted in 2015, is politically motivated Kremlin retribution for his anticorruption activities and his opposition to Putin.

The European Parliament resolution also urged the EU and its member states to develop "a strong unified policy toward Russia that commits the member states and EU institutions to a strong common message on the role of human rights in the EU-Russia relationship."

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