Russia jails Putin critic Navalny for two weeks

Russia jails Putin critic Navalny for two weeks
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, in this December 18, 2014 file photo.

MOSCOW - A Russian court has jailed top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for two weeks in a move that prevents the charismatic leader from attending a massive opposition protest planned for March 1.

The Moscow Presnensky court ruled that Navalny, who has a string of probes against him and was given a suspended prison sentence in December, organised an illegal gathering in the capital's subway by handing out flyers advertising the March 1 protest.

The judge said the action marked a repeat offence that, under recently amended legislation, carries a penalty of up to 30 days behind bars, and jailed Navalny for 15 days.

Writing on Twitter before police led him away in handcuffs, Navalny urged his supporters to come to the March 1 rally, but observers say his absence is likely to deflate attendance.

Moscow city hall has denied permission to hold the rally in the centre, confining it to a residential area on the outskirts of the sprawling city.

The Kremlin has cracked down on dissent since President Vladimir Putin was elected to a third term in 2012, severely tightening regulations of public gatherings after a wave of popular anti-Putin protests - in which Navalny played a central role - in 2011-2012.

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