Alexei Navalny’s family and supporters gather for his funeral – National

On Friday, Russians chanted the name of opponent Alexeï Navalny as his coffin was transported to a Moscow church, surrounded by police, for a funeral which only a few people were allowed to attend.

Navalny’s allies said they believed the service began shortly afterward, but could not be sure because authorities were blocking mobile phone signals in the area. They said thousands of people came to pay their respects.

A long line of people around the church, hoping to get in to say goodbye, clapped and chanted “Navalny! Navalny! as the coffin was carried through metal barriers blocking the building.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic in Russia, died at the age of 47 in an Arctic penal colony on February 16, sparking accusations from his supporters that he had been murdered. The Kremlin has denied any state involvement in his death.

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Authorities banned his movement, calling it extremist, and portrayed his supporters as U.S.-backed troublemakers seeking to foment revolution. Previous gatherings of his supporters were dispersed by force.

Anatoly Navalny, right, and Lyudmila Navalnaya, parents of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, walk toward the Church of the Mother of God Ease My Sorrows Icon, in Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 1, 2024 .

AP photo

Security was tight Friday morning at the church, an imposing white-domed building in Moscow’s southeastern suburbs, with dozens of police vehicles parked nearby.

People carrying flowers arrived early to try to get in and mourners lined up in an orderly manner waiting for the service to begin.

“We are all here together. Nobody is afraid,” one man, who did not give his name, told a journalist from the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “I’m here to support her family and show that she’s not alone.”

Clutching red flowers, another man, who said he was 73, said he felt Navalny’s death was a personal loss and admired him for his lack of fear and outspokenness.

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Another woman in the queue said Navalny was her hero, while a young man nearby hailed the late opposition politician as “a symbol of resistance” and said he had come to show that not everyone in Russia supported the authorities.

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The church service in Navalny’s honor was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. local time at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in the Maryino district of Moscow, where Navalny lived.

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He is then expected to be buried at the Borisovskoye cemetery, about 2.5 km away, across the Moskva River, two hours later. The cemetery was cordoned off Friday morning by security barriers.

Navalny’s allies outside Russia called on people wishing to honor his memory but unable to attend his funeral to go to certain monuments in their own cities on Friday evening at 7 p.m. local time.

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The Kremlin has said any unauthorized gatherings in support of Navalny would violate the law.

“Just a reminder that we have a law that must be respected. Any unauthorized gathering will be a violation of the law and those who participate will be held accountable – again, in accordance with the existing law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He refused to give any assessment of Navalny as a political figure and said he had nothing to say to Navalny’s family.

Rights groups offer advice to grieving people

Navalny’s wife Yulia, with whom he had two children, said she did not know whether the funeral itself would take place peacefully or whether police would arrest participants. She is outside Russia.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila, 69, attended his funeral with her father.

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Rights groups have advised those wishing to attend to take their passports and small bottles of water with them and asked them to write down contact details of lawyers who can help them in case they are arrested and the mobile signal in the area would be cut.

Navalny was a Christian who condemned Putin’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine as a crazy enterprise based on lies. The church that will host his funeral has donated to the Russian military and enthusiastically announced its support for the war.

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As his funeral approached, his allies accused authorities of blocking their plans to hold a larger civilian memorial service and said strangers even managed to thwart their attempts to hire a hearse to transport him to his own funeral.

The Kremlin said it had nothing to do with Navalny’s funeral arrangements.

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Navalny’s allies – who promised to livestream the day’s events – accused Putin of having him assassinated because the Russian leader could not tolerate the idea of ​​Navalny being released in a possible exchange of prisoners.

They have not released any evidence to support this accusation, but have promised to expose how he was murdered and by whom.

The Kremlin has denied any state involvement in his death and said it was unaware of any deal to release Navalny. His death certificate – according to his allies – indicated that he died of natural causes.

Navalny, a former lawyer, has launched the most determined political challenge against Putin since the Russian leader came to power in late 1999, organizing street protests and publishing high-profile investigations into alleged corruption by some members of the the ruling elite.

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Alexeï Navalny’s body handed over to his mother, according to a spokesperson

But a series of criminal charges for fraud and extremism — which Navalny said were politically motivated — landed him prison sentences of more than 30 years and most of his supporters have fled the country or are in prison.

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Navalny decided to return to Russia from Germany in 2021 after being treated for what Western doctors said was poisoning with a nerve agent, before being immediately taken into custody.

Putin, who controls all levers of state and is expected to be comfortably re-elected to another six-year term in two weeks, has yet to comment on Navalny’s death and has for years avoided mentioning him by name.

Although Navalny is well known in the West, Russian state television also did not mention him for years and when it did, it was brief and in a negative light.

(Reporting by Reuters; writing by Andrew Osborn; editing by Daniel Wallis and Philippa Fletcher)

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