Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny is to go on trial on Wednesday (April 17) on embezzlement charges in the provincial city of Kirov, 900 km (550 miles) northeast of Moscow.

The anti-corruption blogger, 36, is the most prominent opposition leader to be tried since anti-Putin protests began 16 months ago. He could be jailed for 10 years if convicted of stealing 16 million roubles ($510,000) from a timber firm he was advising in 2009 while working for Kirov's liberal governor.

Supporters portray the trial in Kirov as the culmination of a clampdown on dissent by Putin since he returned to the presidency last May after four years as prime minister.

Navalny accuses Putin of orchestrating the trial and says the best he can expect is a suspended sentence which would keep him out of elections - he hinted this month that he might like one day to be Russia's president.

Navalny has strong backing among the middle class and urban youth in Moscow who flocked to the anti-Putin rallies he helped organise in Moscow last year. At times they drew tens of thousands of people demanding en end to Putin's long rule.

But his support base is weaker outside big cities and Putin sees little political risk in making an example of Navalny to discourage other dissenters.

Navalny said he knew he could one day go to jail when he started his online campaigning against state corruption in 2007.

The campaign struck a chord when Navalny labelled the ruling United Russia a party of "swindlers and thieves" and he harnessed a mood change among urban youth against Putin's political domination during last year's protests.

But he has made powerful enemies and undermined Putin's promises to crack down on corruption. His strong oratory at rallies also make him a potent rival and his brief spell working for Kirov's independent governor, Nikita Belykh, won him few friends in Moscow's political establishment.

The anti-Putin protests have faded and parliament has passed a series of laws which opponents say are intended to stifle the opposition, such as increasing fines for protesters.

But opposition activists plan to protest in support of Navalny in Moscow and Kirov on Wednesday. Some travelled to Kirov to support him.

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