Russia arrests thousands amid unprecedented pro-Navalny protests

Security forces detained more than 3,000 people and violently broke up rallies across Russia as tens of thousands of protesters ignored extreme cold and police warnings to demand the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Prosecutors in St Petersburg said in a statement late Saturday they were probing violations including “on the part of law enforcement” and the use of force against an unidentified woman.

The statement was released after local media published a video showing a middle-aged woman falling to the ground after being kicked by riot police.

In the video, a woman – identified as Margarita Yudina – is seen asking three policemen in full riot gear why they were detaining a young unarmed protester. One of the policeman than kicks her in the stomach.

A representative of Saint Petersburg’s Dzhanelidze hospital said Yudina was hospitalised Saturday night with a head injury.

“She is in a serious condition,” the hospital representative told AFP news agency on Sunday. “She’s in intensive care.”

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 that he says was applied to his underpants by state security agents in August.

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 in more than 60 Russian cities.

The OVD-Info protest monitor group said at least 3,060 people – including 1,099 in the capital, Moscow and 386 in St Petersburg – had been detained across Russia, a number likely to rise.In central Moscow, where an estimated tens of thousands of people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans. The authorities said just some 4,000 people had shown up.

“There were violent clashes with the police using their batons to beat them down,” Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Godfroid, reporting from Moscow, said.

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