Russia unexpectedly freed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on bail on Friday (July 19), bending to the will of thousands of protesters who denounced his five-year jail sentence as a crude attempt by President Vladimir Putin to silence him.

In a ruling that points to Kremlin uncertainty over how to handle Navalny's case and revived protests, a judge approved an unusual prosecution request to release him while he awaits the outcome of an appeal.

The anti-corruption campaigner's movements will be restricted to Moscow but he proclaimed the ruling, one day after he was convicted of theft, as a victory for people power.

People poured onto the streets of big Russian cities to protest on Thursday evening after Navalny was convicted of stealing at least 16 million roubles ($494,000) from a timber firm when he was advising the Kirov regional governor in 2009.

Navalny said it was too early to speak about his mayoral election campaign, though his campaign chief was quoted by Russian media earlier today saying Navalny will still run for Moscow mayor in September.

The freed leader thanked his supporters once again outside the Kirov court when they greeted him with cheers and pancakes.

Navalny says the case was politically motivated and intended to sideline him as a political threat to Putin, even though his appeal outside the big cities is limited and opinion polls show the president is still Russia's most popular politician.

Presented by Adam Justice

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