When the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged people to come out to their residential courtyards and shine their cellphone flashlights in a display of unity, many Russians responded with jokes and skepticism. After two weekends of nationwide demonstrations, the new protest format looked to some like a retreat, the AP reports. But not to Russian authorities, who moved vigorously to extinguish the illuminated protests called for Sunday. Officials accused Navalny's allies of acting on NATO's instructions. Kremlin-backed TV channels warned that flashlight rallies were part of major uprisings around the world. State news agencies cited unnamed sources saying a terrorist group was plotting attacks during unapproved mass protests. The suppression attempts represent a change of tactics for the authorities who once tried to weaken Navalny's influence by erasing him.
Kremlin-controlled TV channels used to largely ignore protests called by Navalny. President Vladimir Putin has never mentioned his most prominent critic by name. State news agencies referred to the politician and anti-corruption investigator as "a blogger" in stories. "Navalny went from a person whose name is not allowed to be mentioned to the main subject of discussion" on state TV, Maria Pevchikh, head of investigations at Navalny's Foundations for Fighting Corruption, said in a YouTube video Friday. In recent days, official media coverage has focused on plans for the flashlight protest. Reports extensively quoted a Navalny ally. "I saw many posts on social media (saying) 'When Navalny’s headquarters announced the flashlight rally, I thought what nonsense… But when I saw the Kremlin's reaction, I realized they were right to come up with it,'" the ally said.
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