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  4. Russian opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny laid to rest in Moscow | WATCH

Russian opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny laid to rest in Moscow | WATCH

Navalny's sudden death at an Arctic penal colony on February 16 shook the world, with many world leaders and his allies accusing Putin of having him murdered. Navalny's wife also accused Putin of murdering her husband and expressed concern over possible arrests at his funeral.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: March 02, 2024 10:28 IST
Russia, Alexei Navalny funeral, Moscow
Image Source : REUTERS Farewell service for Alexei Navalny at Moscow's Soothe My Sorrows church.

Moscow: Russian opposition leader and a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, was laid to rest in the Church of Icon of the Mother of God in Moscow, in the presence of over a thousand of his supporters amid tight security. Navalny died at an Arctic penal colony, where he was serving a 30-year sentence, under unknown circumstances.

A large crowd gathered on Friday near the Moscow church where he was buried, and his supporters have asked people to turn out in his memory in Russian cities in the evening. Over one thousand people have gathered near the church to bid farewell to the anti-corruption activist, said Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny's allies.

Navalny's coffin was carried from the hearse into the church amid loud chants of "Navalny! Navalny!". A religious service for Navalny was held in the church after which the opposition leader was buried at the Borisovskoye cemetery, around 2.5 km (1.5 miles) away on the other side of the Moskva River. The cemetery was sealed off with crash barriers in the morning. Navalny's mother Lyudmila was present at the funeral along with US and French ambassadors to Russia Lynne Tracy and Pierre Levy respectively.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said that any unsanctioned gatherings in support of the late opposition leader would amount to a violation of the law. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to give any assessment of Navalny as a political figure and said he had nothing to say to Navalny's family.

His supporters say several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny's team got permission from one in the capital's Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia.

India Tv - Russia, Alexei Navalny funeral, Moscow

Image Source : REUTERSAlexei Navalny's mother Lyudmila Navalnaya attends his funeral.

Watch the video of Navalny's funeral

'Afraid to come': Navalny's supporters

People carrying flowers arrived early to try to get in as the morgue holding his body began the process of releasing it to his relatives. "We were very afraid to come," one of the mourners said. "We arrived early and were standing here for a long time hiding our flowers and cameras. But now I realise that we need to do this and speak up."

Tensions were high ahead of his funeral because the authorities had outlawed Navalny's movement as extremist and cast his supporters as US-backed troublemakers out to foment revolution. Previous gatherings of his supporters have been broken up by force. There was heavy security at the church, an imposing white domed building in a south-eastern Moscow suburb, on Friday morning and it was surrounded by metal crash barriers with dozens of police vehicles parked nearby.

Navalny's wife Yulia, with whom he had two children, has said she is unsure whether the funeral itself will pass off peacefully or whether police will arrest attendees. Navalny's allies have accused Putin of having him murdered because the Russian leader could allegedly not tolerate the thought of Navalny being freed in a potential prisoner swap.

Paying tribute to her late husband on X, Yulia wrote, "Thank you for 26 years of absolute happiness... I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try to make you up there happy for me and proud of me. I don't know if I can handle it or not, but I will try. We will definitely meet one day."

India Tv - Russia, Alexei Navalny, funeral

Image Source : REUTERSPolice officers near hundreds of Alexei Navalny's supporters

They even accused Russian authorities of blocking their plans to hold a bigger civil memorial service and said unknown individuals had even managed to thwart their attempts to hire a hearse to transport him to his own funeral. Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Friday that his body was being handed over to his relatives by the morgue ahead of his funeral service, earlier warning of a possible delay because the body had not yet been handed over.

India Tv - Russia, Alexei Navalny funeral, Moscow

Image Source : REUTERSAlexei Navalny's supporters look as his coffin is carried in a hearse.

Hassles over Navalny's funeral

Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3. Authorities originally said they couldn't turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya, 69, appealed to Putin via video for the release of the body so she could bury her son with dignity.

Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny's supporters, his spokesperson said. “Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei's body anywhere,” Yarmysh said on Thursday.

India Tv - Russia, Alexei Navalny funeral, Moscow

Image Source : APWorkers carry the coffin and a portrait of Alexei Navalny after the funeral service.

Russian authorities still haven't announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin's fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, which the Kremlin angrily rejected.

"The funeral will take place the day after tomorrow and I’m not sure yet whether it will be peaceful or whether police will arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband," Navalny's wife Yulia Navalnaya said in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where she won multiple standing ovations.

Who was Alexei Navalny?

Navalny, a former lawyer, mounted the most determined political challenge against Putin since the Russian leader came to power at the end of 1999, organising street protests and publishing high-profile investigations into the alleged corruption of some in the ruling elite. He was convicted of a series of criminal charges, which he denounced as politically motivated, that led to a 30-year prison sentence.

Navalny decided to return to Russia from Germany in 2021 after being treated for what Western doctors said was a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent only to be immediately taken into custody. Putin has yet to comment on Navalny's death and has for years avoided mentioning him by name.

Maria Pevchikh, a Navalny ally, claimed on Monday that Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner swap at the time of his death and that Putin had him killed as he could not tolerate the thought of him being freed. Speaking on YouTube, Pevchikh said that the talks about exchanging Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hitman in jail in Germany, were in their final stages at the time of his death.

(with inputs from agencies)

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