At least 273 people detained at memorials for Alexei Navalny in Russia: Rights group

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At least 273 people have been detained at events across 32 Russian cities since the death of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable domestic opponent, according to rights group OVD-Info.

It would be the largest wave of arrests at political events in Russia since September 2022, when more than 1,300 were arrested at demonstrations against a “partial mobilization” of reservists for the military campaign in Ukraine.

Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, fell unconscious and died on Friday after a walk at the “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony where he was serving a three-decade sentence, authorities said.

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OVD-Info, which reports on freedom of assembly in Russia, said the largest numbers of arrests on Saturday occurred in St Petersburg and Moscow, where Navalny’s movement had traditionally been strong, with 59 and 47 detained, respectively, as of 1330 GMT.

Footage filmed by Reuters on Saturday in St Petersburg showed a gathering of dozens by a monument to the victims of repression. Protesters lay flowers and candles, while some sung hymns and other hugged each other, shedding tears.

“I felt very sorry for him and for our country,” said an 83-year-old woman attending the vigil who declined to give her name. “I'm scared.”

A Reuters reporter at the scene said some 30 people were arrested shortly after the singing finished.

OVD-Info also reported individual arrests in smaller cities across Russia, from the border city of Belgorod, where seven were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on Thursday, to Vorkuta, an Arctic mining outpost once a center of the Stalin-era gulag labor camps.

Footage filmed by Reuters in Moscow showed law enforcement bundling people to the ground in the snow, close to a spot where mourners had left flowers and messages in support of the dead opposition leader.

“In each police department there may be more detainees than in the published lists,” OVD-Info said. “We publish only the names of those people about whom we have reliable knowledge and whose names we can publish.”

Reuters could not immediately verify the count. Police declined to comment.

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