MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny held a political rally on Sunday, hours after being released from jail and pledged to continue his presidential campaign despite the authorities saying he is ineligible to stand.
Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was detained by police in late September and sentenced to 20 days in jail on charges of repeatedly violating laws by organising public meeting and rallies.
It was the third time he had been jailed this year, part of what he says is a pattern of Kremlin harassment designed to thwart his political ambitions.
Russia’s central election commission has declared him ineligible to run for president next year due to a suspended prison sentence, which he says was politically-motivated.
Shrugging off that ban, the 41-year-old lawyer held a campaign rally in the provincial town of Astrakhan in southern Russia on Sunday evening, hours after walking free from jail.
He said after the rally he would continue to campaign and had the right to take part in next year’s election.
“We have more right to take part in the elections than all the other candidates combined,” Navalny wrote on his website.
Putin, 65, has for months declined to say whether he will run for what would be his fourth stint in the Kremlin, but is widely expected to do so. Opinion polls suggest he would comfortably win.
One candidate who has declared her hand is TV personality Ksenia Sobchak who said last week she planned to run, offering liberal voters unhappy with Putin’s rule someone to back, though she has little prospect of winning.
Some opposition activists fret she is a Kremlin project designed to split the opposition, something she denies.
Last month, commenting on rumours that Sobchak would run, Navalny complained she was being used by the Kremlin as a safe lightning conductor for voters’ dissatisfaction.
But he struck a more conciliatory note on Sunday with TV Rain citing him as saying that everyone, including Sobchak, had the right to take part in the March election.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn/Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans