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Kremlin denies interest in Navalny funeral as police prepare to block mourners : NPR

Mourners gather in front of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church ahead of a funeral service for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow’s district of Maryino on March 1, 2024.

Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images


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Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images


Mourners gather in front of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church ahead of a funeral service for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow’s district of Maryino on March 1, 2024.

Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

BERLIN — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is to be buried in southeast Moscow Friday, amid signs that police will try to prevent mourners from attending and the media from reporting on the event.

Navalny died two weeks ago at the age of 47 in an Arctic penal colony under unclear circumstances. Navalny was serving a 30-year sentence on charges of fraud and extremism, accusations his supporters and human rights groups say were trumped up to remove a threat to President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power.

A religious service is to be held at 2 p.m. (6 a.m. EST) in the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God “Relieve My Sorrows” in the Maryino District of Moscow, where the politician once lived. If all goes to plan, his burial will take place two hours later at the Borisovskoye Cemetery, around 1.5 miles from the church.

But organizing the funeral itself has been a challenge, say his movement’s leaders, most of whom are now in exile. When Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, identified his body in the Arctic city of Salekhard, she claimed that authorities “are blackmailing me, telling when, when and how Alexei should be buried,” and that they wanted a secret burial.

She refused.

Since then, as preparations for Friday’s funeral began, funeral homes and hearse drivers have allegedly received threats.

“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” the spokeswoman for Navalny’s team, Kira Yarmysh, said Thursday on social media.

Supporters will attempt a livestream of the funeral

Several media outlets have reported police deploying cell phone jamming towers and barricades, which will make work and access difficult to journalists and mourners alike.

Members of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation have asked those who can’t attend to join events in other Russian cities to mark his death, and plan to livestream the event here.

The politician’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, will not attend for fear of immediate arrest, say members of the foundation. That was the fate of Navalny himself when he returned to Moscow in 2021, after being treated for weeks in Berlin for poisoning with the deadly Novichok nerve agent, in an apparent assassination attempt an investigation revealed likely involved members of the federal security service in Russia.

After surviving an apparent assassination attempt, Navalny was imprisoned

Navalny, a one-time lawyer, spearheaded the most robust opposition movement against Putin since the Russian leader assumed office in late 1999. He orchestrated public demonstrations and released prominent investigations on purported corruption within the ruling class, including a carefully researched expose of a billion-dollar mansion built for Putin himself, made in a YouTube video viewed over 130 million times.

Despite a massive police presence building up the day before the funeral, the Kremlin denies any interest in it and any involvement in his death. For years, Putin has refused to pronounce Navalny’s name in public.

Navalany supporters say his death certificate indicates he died of “natural causes.” But they have speculated that he was in fact killed to prevent a prisoner swap for a Russian national serving time for murder in Germany; neither government has confirmed this was being considered.

What is certain is that Navalny was regularly placed in solitary confinement, and, while maintaining a strong sense of humor and good cheer in his court appearances, looked gaunt in his final days before allegedly collapsing during a walk in the prison yard.

On Thursday, the European Parliament issued a resolution saying Putin and the Russian state bear “criminal and political responsibility for his death,” and pledged support for his wife, Yulia. Some see her as a possible new leader for his movement, even in exile.

Speaking to the parliament in Strasbourg, she said: “My husband will never see what the beautiful Russia of the future will look like. But we must see it. And I will do my best to make his dream come true. The evil will fall and the beautiful future will come.”

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