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Navalny funeral to be held Friday in Moscow challenge to Putin

Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in prison earlier this month, will be buried on Friday in Moscow, his allies said, after previously accusing authorities of trying to interfere with the activist’s funeral.

Navalny will be buried in the city’s Borisov cemetery following a funeral service at a church in the Marino district of southeast Moscow, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Wednesday in a social media message that asked the politician’s supporters to attend.

The funeral will take place a day after President Vladimir Putin gives his annual address to Russia’s Federal Assembly. Even amid an unprecedented Kremlin crackdown on dissent, the scale of the turnout is likely to be an indicator of the strength of opposition to his rule just weeks before the March 17 election that will hand him another six years in power.

“I am not sure yet whether it will be peaceful or whether the police will arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband,” Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said in a speech Wednesday to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Hundreds of people have been arrested after laying flowers in Navalny’s memory in Moscow and other cities since he died Feb. 16 in a remote Arctic prison camp. Yarmysh said on Tuesday that Navalny’s allies tried unsuccessfully to organize a farewell for him in Moscow, but nobody had been willing to hire out a hall to them.

“Some of them say the place is fully booked. Some refuse when we mention the surname ‘Navalny’,” she said. “In one place, we were told that the funeral agencies were forbidden to work with us.”

Officials on Saturday handed Navalny’s body to his mother Lyudmila Navalnaya after keeping it for more than a week. She accused them of trying to pressure her into agreeing to a secret burial for Putin’s most formidable critic, as U.S. President Joe Biden and European leaders blamed the Russian ruler for Navalny’s death.

Talks were underway before his death that could have seen the Russian dissident freed in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. and Germany, a western official said.

Penitentiary officials said Navalny, 47, died after falling ill at the maximum-security prison camp where he was serving 19 years on extremism charges.

Navalnaya has accused Putin of murder and vowed to continue his fight against the Kremlin. She has met with Biden and top European Union officials and is pushing for action to hunt down the assets of Putin’s inner circle.

Navalny’s death “has shown everyone that Putin is capable of anything and that you cannot negotiate with him,” she said in Strasbourg. “You are not dealing with a politician, but a bloody monster. Putin is the leader of an organized, criminal gang.”

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