Russian activist jailed again
Moscow - Russian activists on Monday protested against the jailing of a leading anti-Kremlin campaigner and vowed a larger rally this week as they sought to step up their challenge to the authority of Vladimir Putin.
Around 100 activists including prominent anti-Kremlin blogger Alexei Navalny and former chess champion Garry Kasparov gathered outside a Moscow court in a bid to earn the release of activist Sergei Udaltsov.
"We want to show the judges and the police that we are many and that we don't forget our own," prominent opposition activist Ilya Yashin told AFP at the rally.
"This is a man that they really could kill if we don't come out and support him. They [the authorities] have shown every indication that they are capable of killing him."
Udaltsov, who leads the extreme left-wing Left Front Movement, had already served 15 days for taking part in a protest in Moscow against December 4 parliamentary elections won by Putin's party, polls the opposition says were rigged.
But a Moscow court late on Sunday ordered him to serve 10 more days in jail to finish a sentence he did not fully complete after being arrested at a demonstration in October.
Earlier this month the radical activist ended up in an intensive care unit after going on hunger strike to protest his detention and had vowed to stage a fresh hunger strike if he was given a further term in jail, amid growing fears over his health.
Udaltsov filed his appeal against the sentence and the Tverskoi court said it would examine it this week, said Ilya Ponomaryov, a deputy with the opposition party A Just Russia.
"This is lawlessness, a torture," Navalny said at the rally. "They would not let him live."
While Udaltsov's left-wing views are not shared by all the opposition, protest movement leaders have shown a united front in expressing solidarity with his plight.
Udaltsov's supporters also plan to stage another rally on Thursday evening in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and more than 1 000 people have already vowed to attend.
Putin faces the biggest protest wave in Russia since the 1990s as fatigue with his 12-year rule is setting in across the country.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in the second mass protest in a month, increasing the pressure on Putin for radical reform.
The anti-Putin movement is not expected to hold new mass rallies until after the New Year. Navalny has promised that one million people will attend the next anti-Putin rally.
"The Reckoning", the opposition New Times weekly wrote on its front cover, featuring a picture depicting Putin dressed as a Christmas gnome alongside leaders ousted in the Arab Spring like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Hundreds of people were arrested in the first wave of protests after the elections but two mass rallies have since taken place with no unrest, smashing a taboo in Putin's Russia against mass opposition protests.
Putin's spokesperson on Sunday told AFP that he respected the position of protesters but insisted the Russian prime minister still had the support of a majority of the people heading into presidential elections.
Putin plans to stand for a third Kremlin term in March 2012 polls after his four-year stint as prime minister, with President Dmitry Medvedev taking his current post in a job swap that has angered many Russians.
Medvedev's economic advisor Arkady Dvorkovich acknowledged in an interview with Moscow Echo radio that the protests would continue until the authorities responded to their demands.
"If decisions are taken which are based on consultations with civil society then people can start to gradually trust the authorities," he said.
The leaders have not said when the next mass protest would take place and have set up a Facebook page to co-ordinate and debate the timing of future protests.