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Putin foe Navalny detained and released as protests spread across Russia

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MOSCOW — Russian authorities Sunday released Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, after a brief detention for organizing an unauthorized protest against the upcoming presidential election.

His lawyer, Olga Michailova, said Navalny, who for years led a protest movement against high-level corruption, would have to remain in contact with the authorities, the Tass news agency reported without giving further details.

Navalny was arrested in central Moscow earlier Sunday as his supporters called for a boycott of the March election, in which he has been banned from participating.

In power as president or prime minister for nearly two decades, Putin is almost certain to win another six-year term as president March 18. Putin is campaigning as a guarantor of stability in the country, reminding voters of the chaos of the post-Soviet 1990s that preceded his reign.

Navalny and his supporters hope the election will be undermined by a low voter turnout. About 200 people were detained at Navalny rallies throughout the country Sunday, the opposition-leaning news site Meduza reported.

While on his way to the protest on Moscow’s Pushkin Square, Navalny was wrestled to the ground and dragged into a police vehicle, a video posted on his Twitter page showed.

Police had raided the Moscow headquarters of Navalny’s campaign a few hours earlier, saying they were looking for a bomb, Navalny posted on Twitter.

Officers broke down the door while staffers were recording a video message. Several staff members were detained, said Navalny and members of his team.

Municipal authorities said the protests were not approved and threatened legal action against Navalny.

Russian electoral authorities rejected Navalny’s candidacy because he has been convicted of financial crimes, for which he received a suspended sentence. Navalny has denied wrongdoing.

He has condemned those charges as trumped up, saying they are designed to thwart his political ambitions. He has also been detained numerous times for violating rules against holding unsanctioned public gatherings.

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