Russian police have raided an office of opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he called for mass protests against "thieves, bigots and perverts in power". The charismatic politician, who is a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, had earlier called for rallies across the country to boycott the upcoming presidential election in March.
The 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader has been a target of multiple crackdowns in the past by the Putin administration for anti-government acts. Hundreds of demonstrators began to gather in many Russian cities on Sunday, 28 January, in support of Navalny, who said the presidential poll on 18 March will be nothing more than "pseudo-elections".
"Your life is at stake," Navalny told his supporters in a video message released on Sunday. "How many more years do you want to live with these thieves, bigots and perverts in power? We've already endured this for 18 years."
He said the upcoming presidential election will only serve as a "reappointment" of Putin, who has been in power either as a prime minister or president for the most part since 1999. The March election would allow Putin to continue as president until 2024 if he wins, a likely outcome widely predicted.
Following Navalny's calls, police raided his office questioned many of his supporters. A spokeswoman for the opposition said authorities were looking to shut down a television studio operated by them. Police had also claimed there was a bomb threat for their forced entry into Navalny's Anti-corruption Foundation's building in Moscow.
When Navalny had called for nationwide protests in March and J une 2017, similar raids were conducted against his offices thwarting all the demonstrations.
Navalny has been barred from contesting the presidential election after he was suspended by Russia's central election commission. Though he has been sentenced for fraud, his supporters have called these actions as a political vendetta.
"We knew this could happen, and so we have a straight-forward clear plan," said Navalny earlier. We announce a boycott of the election. The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election. It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected."