Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic Circle prison

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Alexei Navalny has been Russia's most prominent opposition leader in recent times

Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader of the past decade, has died in a prison inside the Arctic Circle, prisons said.

Navalny, seen as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, served 19 years in prison on charges considered politically motivated.

He was transferred to an Arctic penal colony, said to be one of Russia's toughest prisons, late last year.

The prison service in the Yamalo-Nenets district said Navalny was “unwell” after Friday's walk.

He “lost consciousness almost immediately”, it said in a statement, and an emergency medical team was immediately summoned to try to revive him but without success.

“Emergency physicians pronounced the inmate dead. The cause of death is being determined.”

Navalny's lawyer Leonid Solovyov told Russian media he had yet to comment, although his close aide Leonid Volkov wrote in X: “Russian authorities are releasing a confession that they killed Alexei Navalny in prison. We have no way to confirm or prove it. It's not true.”

Within minutes of Navalny's death being announced by the prison service, the international community praised the courage of Vladimir Putin's greatest domestic enemy.

France said he gave his life for resisting Russian “repression”, while Norway's foreign minister said Russian authorities bear a major responsibility for his death.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Navalny's death had been “informed of the president”, who was visiting the city of Chelyabinsk.

Most of the Russian president's critics have left Russia, but Alexei Navalny returned in January 2021 after months of medical treatment. In August 2020, he was poisoned at the end of a trip to Siberia with the Novichok nerve agent.

His crew succeeded in sending him to Germany for special treatment, and upon his return to Moscow he was immediately taken into custody. He will not be out of jail for the next 37 months.

Navalny has long sought to challenge Vladimir Putin at the ballot box, but he was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election. Next month, Russia's leader will stand without any meaningful opposition.

Anti-war candidate Boris Nadeshtin was barred from standing after thousands of signatures submitted in support of his candidacy were found to be fraudulent.

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