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  • 17 April 2013, 8:38

Anti-Putin Blogger Navalny's Trial Adjourned

The trial of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been opened and almost immediately adjourned to give his defence more time to prepare.

The anti-corruption blogger claims the case has been personally ordered by Vladimir Putin in order to silence him.

Wearing jeans and a white open-necked shirt, Navalny spoke briefly to confirm his name and personal details before the trial was postponed until April 24th.

His supporters held a rally outside the court chanting 'Navalny's case is my case', anti-Navalny protesters shouted 'the thief should sit in jail'.

The 36-year-old emerged as one of the president's most vocal critics during the winter of protests that followed the disputed election results in December 2011.

A trained lawyer with an ear for a soundbite, Navalny coined the epithet "party of crooks and thieves" for Mr Putin's United Russia.

He has since claimed several notable scalps among his administration, including the head of his parliamentary ethics committee, who resigned after claims published on the activist's blog.

Navalny now finds himself accused of conspiring to steal 16m roubles (330,000) from a state-run timber firm in Kirov, a small town around 500 miles northeast of Moscow, while working as an adviser to the regional governor there in 2009.

He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, and perhaps equally significantly, would then be barred from running for public office.

Navalny has recently expressed an interest in running for the presidency.

The father-of-two has told reporters he has no doubt he will be convicted - the judge presiding over his case has yet to return a "not guilty" verdict - and says he is preparing himself for the possibility of being sent to prison.

"I'm absolutely sure it will end in a guilty verdict," he said. "They've already decided everything, including the sentence.

"They're interested in some kind of public relations, to say on television that the man who for years has been accusing us of corruption is corrupt himself. By them, I mean Putin."

HIs trial has now been adjourned until April 24.

President Putin's spokesman has declined to comment on the case.

Navalny has been campaigning against corruption by state officials and companies since 2007, but it was his role in the post-election protests that brought him to prominence.

He says he was aware of the risks involved.

"If you get into opposition politics, they can put you in jail. If you take on corruption, the easiest thing for these people is to put you in jail.

"Putin and his inner circle have realised that they have no levers left at their disposal to keep control of the political system except repression.

"They see the decline in (Putin's) ratings and the growing discontent, and the protests continue ... They will crush anyone who objects to Putin being president for life."

Navalny's case has been compared with that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once one of the richest men in Russia.

The former oligarch was jailed in 2005 on charges of embezzlement and is still being held in a Siberian prison camp.

Khodorkovksy's lawyers maintain the case against him was orchestrated after he strayed from the realm of business into politics.

But the former tycoon has continued to campaign from behind bars, and jailing Navalny runs a similar risk of uniting opposition protesters behind him and turning him into a popular martyr.

Political analyst Yulia Latynina said: "The more Navalny is tormented (by the Kremlin), the greater the number of people ready to give him their support.

"And the more Navalny is tormented, the more he is seen as an opposition leader."

An independent poll last month found only 37% of Russians knew who Alexei Navalny was, but it's a substantial increase on 6% two years ago, and not an insignificant proportion for a man without access to the mechanism of state-controlled media in Russia.

The gamble for the authorities is that the trial, and presumably conviction, of Alexei Navalny will only boost his popularity.