Russia warns against pro-Navalny Valentine's Day protests

February 11, 2021 5:21 AM EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian law enforcement agencies warned Russians on Thursday not to take part in unsanctioned rallies as allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny prepared to stage a brief Valentine's Day protest across Russia this weekend.

Navalny ally Leonid Volkov has urged Russians to gather in residential courtyards near their homes for a protest on Sunday, shining their mobile phone torches and lighting candles in heart shapes.

"We urge citizens to refrain from participating in unsanctioned rallies," the interior ministry said.

The General Prosecutor's Office and Investigative Committee also issued statements, saying people could face criminal charges for taking part in unauthorised protests and that pandemic-related restrictions also remained in place.

More than 11,000 people have been detained at protests in recent weeks against the arrest and imprisonment of Navalny, who was jailed this month for parole violations, charges he said were trumped up and politically motivated.

Ninety criminal cases have been opened into alleged crimes committed during rallies so far this year, the interior ministry said.

A European human rights advocate has asked Russia to explain reports accusing the police of using excessive force to disperse anti-Kremlin protests and committing rights abuses, and reminded Moscow of peoples' right to freedom of assembly.

The Kremlin has denied repression by police, saying that any cases of alleged police brutality are being looked into but that there have been more cases of riot police officers being attacked by protesters than vice versa.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Gabrielle T├ętrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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