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Freed Russian opposition leader Navalny returns to Moscow

The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has returned to Moscow after his surprise release on bail, cheered on by supporters. He confirmed his plan to stand for election as Moscow’s mayor, vowing he could win

Supporters gathered to welcome Navalny back to the Russian capital on Saturday, many among them chanting his name and holding flowers.

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Navalny freed despite jail sentence

The 37-year-old lawyer stepped off the train after an overnight journey from the city of Kirov, where he had been sentenced on embezzlement charges to five years imprisonment on Thursday.

Navalny, who was unexpectedly released on bail by a different Kirov court on Friday, told supporters he would run for the office of mayor of Moscow, and promised that he was capable of winning.

"We are going to run and we will win," Navalny said, addressing the crowd outside the station through a loudspeaker.

"Together we are a huge powerful force and I am glad we have started realizing this," he said." Ahead of us is a big, difficult electoral campaign."

Police had cordoned off the Yaroslavsky station in central Moscow, with anti-terrorism units standing guard after an earlier anonymous bomb threat targeting the station.

'Politically motivated' accusations

The intended jailing of Navalny, who denied charges that he led a group that embezzled 16 million rubles (375,000 euros, $500,000) from a state timber company, was criticized by both the EU and US. Both described it as politically motivated.

The initial sentence passed by the court in Kirov, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow, also prompted protests in the capital and St. Petersburg.

A higher court ruled that keeping Navalny in jail pending his appeal would limit his right to be elected in the September 8 poll, and that it had no legal basis.

Navalny rose to prominence as a blogger against corruption at state-owned firms. He became an opposition figurehead in protests over vote-rigging, after parliamentary elections in 2011 and President Vladimir Putin's re-election to serve a third presidential term in March 2012.

rc/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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