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regular-article-logo Monday, 15 July 2024

Thousands bid farewell to Alexei Navalny and chants ‘no to war’ under heavy police ring

The service followed a battle with authorities over the release of the body of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic

AP/PTI Moscow Published 02.03.24, 05:37 AM
Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny File image

Under a heavy police presence, thousands of people bade farewell on Friday to Alexei Navalny at his funeral in Moscow after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony.

The service followed a battle with authorities over the release of the body of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic. His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the funeral for the man who crusaded against official corruption and organised big protests. Many western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.

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Navalny’s team eventually got permission from the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which was encircled by crowd-control barriers on Friday.

As his coffin was removed from the hearse and taken inside the church, the crowd waiting outside broke into respectful applause and then chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!” Some also shouted, “You weren’t afraid, neither are we!” and later “No to war”!

Western diplomats, including US ambassador Lynn Tracy, were among those who attended, along with presidential hopefuls Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova. Both wanted to run against Putin in the upcoming presidential elections and opposed his war in Ukraine; neither was allowed on the ballot.

A photo from inside the church showed an open casket with Navalny’s body covered with red and white flowers, and his mother sitting beside it holding a candle.

Navalny’s father was also present, but it wasn’t clear who else in his family attended. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, just two days ago addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France; his daughter is a student at the Stanford University, and the whereabouts of his son are unknown.

The politician’s closest associates have left Russia under pressure and watched the funeral, which was streamed live on his YouTube channel, from abroad.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged those gathering in Moscow and other places not to break the law, saying any “unauthorised (mass) gatherings” are violations.

“Those people who follow what is happening, it is of course obvious to them that this man is a hero of our country, whom we will not forget,” said Nadezhda Ivanova, a Kaliningrad resident who was outside the church with other supporters.

“What was done to him is incredibly difficult to accept and get through it.”

After the short funeral, a crowd of thousands marched from the church to the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where the police were also out in force for the burial.

With the casket open, Navalny’s parents and others stroked and kissed his body. Meanwhile, a large crowd of supporters gathered at the gates of the cemetery, chanting: “Let us in to say goodbye!”

The coffin was then lowered into the ground, allies said.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his February 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 km northeast of Moscow.

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