Anti-government protesters have gathered in 80 Russian cities to support jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Police detained over 262 people at the rallies which took place on Vladimir Putin's 65th birthday.
Navalny supporters took to the streets of Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities on Saturday, calling for the jailed opposition leader to be allowed to run for president in 2018.
Witnesses reported seeing scuffles with the police and security forces using tear gas at the central event in Saint Petersburg. The rally gathered some 2,000 people, with smaller rallies held in Moscow and scores of other cities across the country.
DW's Emily Sherwin says Saint Petersburg police hauled off protesters from the scene in buses.
Anti-riot police [are] trying to encircle protesters, DW producer Katja Kuznetsova tweeted from the scene.
Russian pro-opposition activists say a total of 262 people were arrested across Russia. The rallies, which used the motto "for Navalny," drew notably smaller crowds on Saturday compared to earlier anti-government demonstrations in June.
Navalny has also been barred from running for president in 2018 over an embezzlement charge. He has rejected it as politically motivated.
The Saturday protests were scheduled to mark the 65th birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with protesters in Moscow and his native Saint Petersburg chanting "Russia without Putin" and "Putin, retire."
Putin has ruled Russia for 18 years and is widely expected to win another six-year-term in 2018.
Speaking from his jail cell this week, Navalny likened life under Putin's government to eating turnip. "If we do nothing, they will be feeding us this damn turnip for the rest of our lives. And our children too," he said.
Russian police have raided Navalny's campaign offices in Moscow and several other cities in the past few days.
Navalny's allies have released a video in which the celebrated Russian film director Andrei Zvyagintsev criticized the 2018 vote. "We are asked to choose one out of one," he said, alluding to accusations that the government will ensure a victory for the incumbent president. "It's just revolting watching this spectacle."
Putin's long reign
Putin, a former Soviet spy, was first elected to the Russian presidency in 2000 after becoming caretaker president following the resignation of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999.
Putin was reelected to another four-year term in 2004 and, after spending four years as prime minister, was reelected again as president in 2012.
Navalny became a prominent figure in the Russian opposition movement after he helped organize massive anti-government protests in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Opposition critics had claimed that a previous parliamentary election had been rigged.
Putin, who will turn 65 on Saturday, is set to spend his birthday with his family and attend a meeting of Russia's security council, a Kremlin spokesman said.