Russians angered by the impending inauguration of Vladimir Putin to a new term as president protested Saturday in scores of cities across the country—and police responded by reportedly arresting nearly 1,600 of them, the AP reports. Among those arrested was protest organizer Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is Putin's most prominent foe. Police seized Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Moscow's Pushkin Square, where thousands were gathered for an unauthorized protest. Police also used batons against protesters who chanted "Putin is a thief!" and "Russia will be free!" Demonstrations under the slogan "He is not our czar" took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the fringes of Europe.
The protests demonstrated that Navalny's opposition, although considered beleaguered by Russian officials and largely ignored by state-controlled television, has sizeable support in much of the country. "I think that Putin isn't worthy of leading this country. He has been doing it for 18 years and has done nothing good for it," said Moscow demonstrator Dmitry Nikitenko. Putin is to be inaugurated for a new six-year term on Monday after winning re-election in March with 77% of the vote. Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a felony conviction in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalize him. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted that the US "condemns #Russia's detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters and calls for their immediate release."
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