Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny unveil plan for big spring protest

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FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday they wanted to stage the biggest anti-Kremlin street protest in modern Russian history this spring to demand the opposition politician's release.

Navalny, 44, is serving a two and half year jail term on charges he called fabricated after returning to Russia from Germany in January where he was recovering from what doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning.

His supporters staged three protests this year during the pandemic at the height of winter. The authorities said they were illegal and broke them up with force, prompting the opposition to declare a moratorium.

On Tuesday, Navalny's allies launched a political campaign with its own website "Free Navalny" and said they would announce a date for a new nationwide street protest once 500,000 people had registered to attend.

"A protest with 500,000 people taking part will be the biggest in the history of modern Russia," said Ivan Zhdanov, head of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

"We'll hold a peaceful rally in the streets of all of Russia's cities," Leonid Volkov, a close Navalny ally, said.

The West has demanded Russia release Navalny from jail, something Moscow has called unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.

Russian authorities say they have seen no evidence that Navalny was poisoned and have suggested Navalny is a Western puppet sent back to try to destabilise the political situation in Russia.

(Reporting by Anton Zverev; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)