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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s mother told he had succumbed to ‘sudden death syndrome’

At least 212 people had been detained at protests in Russia on Friday and Saturday in memory of Alexei Navalny, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s most formidable domestic opponent, who died on Friday, according to rights group OVD-Info.

It would be the largest wave of arrests at political events in Russia since September 2022, when more than 1,300 were arrested at demonstrations against a “partial mobilisation” of reservists for the military campaign in Ukraine.

Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, fell unconscious and died on Friday after a walk at the Polar Wolf Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 30-year sentence, authorities said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s mother was told on Saturday that he had been struck down by “sudden death syndrome”, his team said.

She was also told that his body would not be handed over to the family until an investigation was completed. It was not clear where his body was.

Lyudmila Navalnaya was given an official death notice stating the time of death as 2:17 pm local time on 16 February 16th, Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh said.

“When Alexei’s lawyer and mother arrived at the colony this morning, they were told that the cause of Navalny’s death was sudden death syndrome,” Ivan Zhdanov, who directs Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said.

“Sudden death syndrome” is a general term for various cardiac syndromes that cause sudden cardiac arrest and death.

His body was taken to Salekhard, the town near the prison complex, by Russian investigators, who were conducting “research”, Ms Yarmysh said.

VD-Info, which reports on freedom of assembly in Russia, said at least 212 people in 21 cities across Russia had been detained at spontaneous rallies and vigils as of 11.27am Irish time on Saturday.

OVD-Info said that police had detained at least 109 people in St Petersburg and at least 39 in Moscow, the country’s two largest cities, where Navalny’s mostly educated and urban supporters had been concentrated.

The group also reported individual arrests in smaller cities across Russia, from the border city of Belgorod, where seven were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on Thursday, to Vorkuta, an Arctic mining outpost once a centre of the Stalin-era gulag labour camps.

Footage filmed by Reuters in Moscow showed law enforcement bundling people to the ground in the snow, close to a spot where mourners had left flowers and messages in support of the dead opposition leader.

“In each police department there may be more detainees than in the published lists,” OVD-Info said. “We publish only the names of those people about whom we have reliable knowledge and whose names we can publish.”

Reuters could not immediately verify the count.

The hundreds of flowers and candles laid in Moscow on Friday to honour Navalny’s memory were mostly taken away overnight in black bags. Russians paying their respects spoke of their despair and apathy after Navalny’s death.

The IK-3 penal colony in Kharp is situated in the Arctic Circle, some 1,900km northeast of Moscow and a one-hour drive from Salekhard, the administrative capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District.

Meanwhile, G7 foreign ministers observed a minute’s silence at the start of their meeting in Munich on Saturday to pay their respects to Navalny, the G7′s Italian presidency said.

“For his ideas and for his battle for freedom and against corruption in Russia, Navalny was de facto led to death,” Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani said as he opened a gathering of the major democracies on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“Russia must shed light on his death and stop its unacceptable repression of political dissent,” Mr Tajani said, according to his ministry.

British foreign secretary David Cameron said on Saturday there will be “consequences” for the death of Navalny, as western capitals pinned the blame on Mr Putin.

In London, the UK foreign office summoned diplomats at the Russian embassy and called for Navalny’s death to be “investigated fully and transparently”.

Britain has joined other western countries in condemning the Kremlin after Russia’s federal prison service said in a statement that the 47-year-old politician and anti-corruption campaigner had died.

US president Joe Biden said Washington does not know exactly what happened, “but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did”.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who attended the same conference in Munich on Saturday alongside other world leaders, told those attending: “Putin kills whoever he wants.

“After the murder of Alexei Navalny, it’s absurd to perceive Putin as a supposedly legitimate head of a Russian state and he is a thug who maintains power through corruption and violence.” – Reuters/PA


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