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Alexei Navalny’s funeral takes place despite pressure

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The funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny takes place in Moscow on Friday, with his team accusing authorities of continuing to try to disrupt them and prevent people from gathering to pay their respects to Vladimir Putin’s most powerful critic.

Navalny’s team accused authorities of trying to block a public funeral, fearing protests, but his colleagues insisted on Thursday that anyone wishing to say goodbye should come, regardless of the threats.

The funeral will take place in a small church in the southern suburb of Marino. Navalny will be buried at the nearby Borisov cemetery, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

“Despite all the resistance, farewell to Alexei will definitely take place tomorrow,” Yarmysh wrote on Thursday on X, formerly Twitter, adding that the service would begin at 2 p.m. local time and the burial would take place two hours later. “If you’re in Moscow, come,” she said.

PHOTO: Funeral service workers bring the coffin of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny inside the Church of the Mother of God Icon, during his funeral in Moscow, Russia, March 1 2024.

Funeral service workers bring the coffin of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny inside the Church of the Mother of God Icon, during his funeral in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024.

Sergei Ilnitsky/epa-efe/shutters/SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/shutters

Navalny’s team also called on residents outside Moscow to visit Navalny memorials in their respective cities.

It is likely that police will attempt to prevent crowds from accessing the service, and Friday could see mass arrests. Since Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony two weeks ago, police have arrested hundreds of people who tried to lay flowers at monuments to political repression in his honor.

Photos posted Thursday evening on Russian social media appear to show police setting up barricades near the church where the funeral will take place.

PHOTO: Imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from the IK-3 penal colony above the Arctic Circle, at the Supreme Court in Moscow, January 11, 2024.

Imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from the IK-3 penal colony above the Arctic Circle during a hearing into his complaint over restrictions on books and reading materials to which he can access prison, the Supreme Court. Moscow court, January 11, 2024.

Vera Savina/AFP via Getty Images

After authorities initially refused to release Navalny’s body to his mother, his team accused them of continuing to try to disrupt the burial, alleging that funeral homes and cemeteries were pressured not to help. Russian authorities handed over Navalny’s body to his mother more than a week after the opposition leader’s death on February 16.

Yarmysh said Thursday they were having trouble finding a hearse to transport Navalny’s body because funeral directors were reportedly under threat. Moscow authorities also refused Thursday evening to authorize a request to hold a memorial march of up to 50,000 people on Saturday.

Yekaterina Duntsova, a liberal opposition activist, posted a photo of the refusal from the Moscow mayor’s office, which cited COVID restrictions to justify blocking the march, although Moscow did not enforce restrictions in the city since the first months of the pandemic in 2020.

PHOTO: Cemetery workers prepare a grave at the Borisovo cemetery ahead of the burial of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, March 1, 2024.

Cemetery workers prepare a grave at the Borisovo cemetery ahead of the burial of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, March 1, 2024.

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Navalny’s family and allies have accused Russia of killing the Putin critic in prison. Navalny was previously poisoned and nearly died in an assassination attempt attributed to the Russian president.

Some Western countries, including the United States, have said Putin bears responsibility for Navalny’s death. “We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that Navalny’s death was the result of something Putin and his friends did,” President Joe Biden said.

The level of repression in Russia means it is difficult to predict how many people will attempt to attend Navalny’s funeral. After opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated outside the Kremlin in 2015, around 50,000 people marched through central Moscow for his funeral. Navalny probably has an even stronger following, but the environment is now very different in Russia, where there is currently almost zero tolerance for dissent and virtually all independent opposition figures are forced into exile or imprisoned .

PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other protesters march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow on 29 February 2020.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other protesters march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow, February 29, 2020.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Navalny, 47, has emerged for most of the past decade as the peerless opponent of Putin’s regime.

He amassed millions of followers through innovative anti-corruption investigations that exposed the ill-gotten wealth of Putin and top Russian officials, publishing them as humorous and viral videos. He sought to run for president and built a grassroots political movement, leading protests and waging tactical get-out-the-vote campaigns aimed at undermining Putin’s power.

Navalny was poisoned with Novichok nerve agent while on a plane to Moscow in August 2020. He was flown to Germany, where he received treatment and doctors confirmed that he had been poisoned. The United States then sanctioned four Russians it said were involved in the poisoning and who were members of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

PHOTO: Mourners gather in front of the Church of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows ahead of the funeral of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, March 1, 2024.

Mourners gather in front of the Church of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows ahead of the funeral of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, March 1, 2024.

Alexandre Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the assassination attempt, Navalny returned to Russia in early 2021 and was immediately imprisoned on charges of fraud and extremism that were widely dismissed as politically motivated. Tried again while in prison, Navalny continued to mock and criticize Putin’s regime and organize peaceful efforts to weaken it.

During his life, Navalny led numerous peaceful protests across Moscow in defiance of authorities’ bans, denouncing official corruption and calling for free elections. Police arrested thousands of people during the protests, taking an even harder line. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, virtually no public protests have been allowed, and even those manning individual pickets holding blank pieces of paper have been arrested.

Still, it seemed likely that people would attempt to attend Friday’s funeral.

Navalny’s death has devastated Russia’s already beleaguered anti-Kremlin opposition. His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, has pledged to continue her fight, making public appearances and continuing to call for action against Putin. In a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, she called Putin a “bloody monster” and urged countries to treat him like the leader of an “organized crime gang” and find innovative ways to target his assets and those of his entourage in their country. territory.

PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a rally in support of political prisoners on Prospekt Sakharova Street in Moscow, September 29, 2019.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a rally in support of political prisoners on Prospekt Sakharova Street in Moscow, September 29, 2019.

Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Navalnaya has lived in exile for several years and would likely face arrest if she returned to Russia.

She accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Wednesday of trying to prevent a public ceremony for Navalny.

“People in the Kremlin killed him, then they abused Alexei’s body, then his mother, and now they are abusing his memory,” she wrote on X. “We don’t want treatment special, let’s just give people the opportunity to say goodbye to Alexey normally. Don’t interfere, please.

PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media outside the Central Election Commission in Moscow on December 25, 2017.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media outside the Central Election Commission in Moscow, December 25, 2017.

Dmitri Serebryakov/AFP via Getty Images

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