Moscow, Jan 31: Chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin, thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday across Russia’s vast expanse to demand the release of jailed Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, keeping up the nationwide protests that have rattled the Kremlin. Nearly 2,300 were detained by police, according to a monitoring group.

Russian authorities mounted a  massive effort to stem the tide of demonstrations after tens of thousands rallied across the country last weekend in the largest, most widespread show of discontent that Russia has seen in years. Yet despite threats of jail terms, warnings to social media groups and tight police cordons, the protests again engulfed many cities on Sunday.

The 44-year-old Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator who is Putin’s best-known critic, was arrested on January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations. He was arrested for allegedly violating his parole conditions by not reporting for meetings with law enforcement when he was recuperating in Germany.

The United States urged Russia to release Navalny and criticised the crackdown on protests. “The US condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

On Sunday, police detained nearly 2,300 people at protests held in cities across Russia’s 11 time zones, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

In Moscow, authorities introduced unprecedented security measures in the city centre, closing subway stations near the Kremlin, cutting bus traffic and ordering restaurants and stores to stay closed. – AP