Russian opposition leader arrested amid protests

MOSCOW — Protesters gathered across Russia Sunday to support opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March presidential election, and Navalny himself was arrested while walking to the Moscow demonstration.

Many of the crowds that turned out in generally frigid weather skewed sharply young, apparently reflecting growing discontent among Russians who have lived most or all of their lives under President Vladimir Putin, who came to power on New Year’s Eve 1999.

“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has always been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old Vlad Ivanov, one of about 1,500 protesters who assembled in St. Petersburg.

Navalny, Putin’s most prominent foe, organized the protests to urge a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election, in which Putin is sure to win a fourth term. He was wrestled to the ground and forced into a police bus

as he walked toward the

demonstration on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated.

Late Sunday night, hours after police detained him, Navalny said on Twitter that he had been released before a trial. Russian news reports cited police earlier as saying he was likely to be charged with a public-order violation for calling unauthorized demonstrations.

Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported after his release that Navalny had not yet been presented

with a charge.

Protests were reported in dozens of cities, from the Pacific Coast to the Baltic

Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Navalny’s web page showed a small group of protesters in remote Yakutsk, where it was minus 49 Fahrenheit.

A crowd that police estimated at 1,000 people, but appeared larger, assembled in central Pushkin Square, brandishing placards reading “They’ve stolen the election from us” and “Elections without Navalny are fake.”