Russian police have issued a strong warning against participating in protests planned for Sunday to call for the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's most prominent foe. The warning comes amid detentions of Navalny associates and opposition journalists and a police plan to restrict movement in the center of Moscow on Sunday, the AP reports. Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 after flying back to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning. His detention sparked nationwide protests one week ago in about 100 cities; nearly 4,000 people were reported arrested. The next demonstration in Moscow is planned for Lubyanka Square. The Federal Security Service, which Navalny claims arranged to have him poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent on behalf of the Kremlin, is headquartered in the square. The Russian government has denied a role in the 44-year-old's poisoning.
Police said much of central Moscow from Red Square to Lubyanka would have pedestrian restrictions and that seven subway stations in the vicinity would be closed on Sunday. Restaurants in the area also are to be closed. Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk cited the coronavirus pandemic in a Saturday warning against protests. She said participants found in violation of epidemiological regulations could face criminal charges. The Jan. 23 protests in support of Navalny were the largest and most widespread seen in Russia in many years, and authorities sought to prevent a repeat. Police conducted a series of raids this week at apartments and offices of Navalny’s family, associates, and anti-corruption organization. His brother Oleg, top aide Lyubov Sobol and three other people were put under two-month house arrest on Friday, as part of a criminal probe into alleged violations of coronavirus regulations during last weekend’s protests.
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