MOSCOW (AP) – When the team of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged people to come out to their residential courtyards and shine their cellphone flashlights in a display of unity, many responded with jokes and skepticism. After two weekends of nationwide demonstrations, the new protest format looked to some like a retreat.
But not to Russian authorities, who moved vigorously to extinguish the illuminated protests planned 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. Russian President Vladimir Putin has never mentioned his most prominent critic by name. State news agencies
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