Russia to investigate Putin foe's call for election boycott

Russia to investigate Putin foe's call for election boycott

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities will investigate whether opposition leader Alexei Navalny is breaking the law with his campaign for boycotting next year's presidential election, the Kremlin said Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings have topped 80 percent, is set to win a fourth term in the March 18 election. A victory would put Putin, 65, on track to become Russia's longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.

Navalny, 41, has campaigned for the presidency all year despite an implicit ban on his candidacy from a fraud conviction seen by many as political retribution. He was formally barred from the ballot earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Navalny announced that a slew of rallies would be held across Russia on Jan. 28 to promote an "electoral strike" to protest the Central Election Commission's decision to bar him from the race.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Thursday he had "no doubts" that authorities would review Navalny's appeals to determine if they are illegal.

While Russian law doesn't explicitly prohibit calls for election boycotts, Russian authorities have used anti-extremism legislation to cut access to websites carrying such calls.

A YouTube video in which Navalny encourages the Jan. 28 electoral strike protests was not available in Russia for several hours Thursday, but reappeared.

Navalny has appealed the election commission's decision to keep him off the presidential ballot. Russia's highest court is set to consider the issue Saturday.

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