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Russian court says opposition leader Navalny guilty of embezzlement

Russian anti-corruption campaigner and opposition figure Alexei Navalny

A Russian judge said on Wednesday that opposition leader Alexei Navalny was guilty of embezzlement, Interfax news agency reported, a decision that may force the activist to drop his plan to run in next year’s presidential election.

The judge at the court in the city of Kirov was still reading his verdict, but it was clear from his remarks Navalny would be found guilty, the agency said.

Navalny said during a break that the new verdict repeated word for word a previous court ruling which the European Court of Human Rights found had violated his rights.

“They were too lazy to write another one. It was a demonstration that they don’t give a damn about the European Court and can take the old verdict,” Navalny said.

Late last year he announced his plan to run for president in 2018, when Vladimir Putin’s current term expires. Under Russian law, he would be banned from running for 10 years if convicted of a serious crime.

Prosecutors asked for a five-year suspended sentence.

The opposition leader says the prosecution is aimed at barring him from political activity. The Kremlin denies that.

Asked if Navalny’s absence from the presidential race would undermine the legitimacy of the election, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on Wednesday: “We believe any concerns about this are inappropriate.”

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