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Russian opposition leader Navalny given 15 days in custody

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MOSCOW: Russia’s leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in custody for handing out leaflets in the subway.

A district court in Moscow ruled Thursday that Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader who spearheaded protests against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, violated the law when he campaigned on the subway for an unauthorized “anti-crisis” march on March 1.

Russia is facing a severe economic downturn because of low oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Navalny denied the accusations of breaking the law and argued that they were intended to prevent him from organizing the demonstration.

“We need to put pressure on the government to prevent political and economic crisis,” Navalny told reporters outside the court as police escorted him out of the building. “We all must take part in the anti-crisis march.”

Navalny, the driving force behind the 2011-2012 mass anti-Putin protests in Moscow, has campaigned to organize anti-government protests in several Russian cities in March.

Navalny was convicted in late December of fraud and given a 3 1/2 -year suspended sentence, and was ordered to remain under house arrest until his appeals were exhausted. His brother was also sent to prison under the verdict, which was widely seen as a vendetta by the Kremlin.

Navalny has repeatedly violated his house arrest, flouting Russian court orders in place since February.

When a rally of several thousand protested the verdict in December just outside the Kremlin in the boldest anti-government rally in years, Navalny tried to attend but was rounded up by police who drove him home.

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