Prosecutors ask to free Russian opposition leader

KIROV, Russia (AP) — Russian prosecutors says they have asked that opposition leader Alexei Navalny be freed pending appeal after he was sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges, a decision the West criticized as politically driven.

Prosecutors made the move Thursday as several thousand Navalny supporters gathered outside the Kremlin, chanting “Freedom!” amid thick police cordons. Police detained some of the demonstrators, but didn’t immediately move to disperse the rally.

The prosecutors’ motion may reflect an attempt to soothe public anger and the government’s fear that putting Navalny in prison would steal legitimacy from Moscow mayoral elections in which he’s running against the Kremlin-backed incumbent.

Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled 16 million rubles ($500,000) worth of timber from a state-owned company in 2009.

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