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Navalny's Team Calls for Protests      04/18 11:06

   

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Associates of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei 
Navalny called Sunday for massive protests in the heart of Moscow and St. 
Petersburg on Wednesday, saying Navalny's health is deteriorating severely 
during a hunger strike.

   Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Navalny, said the demonstrations were 
called with three days' notice because "his life hangs in the balance....We 
don't know how long he can hold on. But it is clear we do not have time."

   The 44-year-old Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most visible and 
persistent critic, started a hunger strike more than three weeks ago to protest 
prison authorities' refusal to allow him to be seen by a private doctor. He 
says he is suffering from severe back pain and loss of feeling in his legs, and 
that the medical care in prison inadequate; the Russian penitentiary service 
says he is getting appropriate care.

   A doctor said Saturday that test results he received from Navalny's family 
showed sharply elevated levels of potassium, which could lead to cardiac 
arrest, and signs of kidney failure.

   "Our patient could die at any moment," the doctor, Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said.

   There was no immediate comment from police or government officials about the 
call for protests, but the response is likely to be harsh. Police arrested more 
than 10,000 people during nationwide protests in January demanding Navalny's 
freedom.

   The Wednesday protests have been called for symbolically resonant locations 
-- Manezh Square in Moscow, just outside the Kremlin walls, and St. 
Petersburg's sprawling Palace Square.

   Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Russia from Germany, 
where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with a Soviet era nerve 
agent that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied any 
involvement and questioned whether Navalny was poisoned, although several 
European laboratories confirmed that he was sickened with a Novichok nerve 
agent. .

   Navalny was ordered to serve 2 1/2 years in prison on the grounds that his 
long recovery in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence he received 
for a fraud conviction in a case that Navalny says was politically motivated.

   His arrest and subsequent health problems have brought repeated criticism 
from the West.

   "We call on the Russian authorities to grant him immediate access to medical 
professionals he trusts," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 
said Sunday. "The EU will continue to call for his immediate and unconditional 
release as we consider his sentencing politically motivated and running counter 
to Russia's international human rights obligations."

   National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN television that the 
United States is concerned about Navalny's health.

   "We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. 
Navalny is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the 
international community," Sullivan said. "We have communicated that there will 
be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies."

 
 
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