Thousands of people have defied the wrath of Russian President Vladimir Putin by paying their respects to dissident leader Alexei Navalny whose funeral was held on Friday in Moscow.

The Kremlin has been accused of Mr Navalny’s death who was being held in an Arctic prison when he died on February 16.

The Russian Government has furiously denied the accusation.

Russians came out in droves to pay their final respects to Putin’s fiercest critic — who was buried to the defiant refrain of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

A sombre photo taken inside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, in Russia’s capital, showed the 47-year-old politician’s body resting in a coffin covered in red and white roses, with candles burning around him.

His parents, Lyudmila Navalnya and Anatoly Navalny, with their faces etched in grief, could be seen seated next to their dead son, surrounded by other relatives, reported the New York Post.

A hearse carrying his body then arrived at a Moscow cemetery following a brief funeral service — with Mr Navalny’s allies claiming the presiding Russian Orthodox priest had been pressured to wrap as quickly as possible.

There, he was buried to the classic Sinatra tune about having cut his own path in life.

As Mr Navalny set out on his final journey to the Borisovskoye cemetery, thousands of people lined the streets along the route chanting, “We will not forget” and “Russia will be free”.

Hundreds of thousands more watched the proceedings as they were streamed live on YouTube.

Police in riot gear had been sent to the area around the service and snipers were positioned on the Russian capital’s rooftops as a precaution.

His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Mr Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia.

Hours before the funeral was set to start, hundreds waited for outside the church under the watch of police who deployed in big numbers.

A burial was to follow at the nearby cemetery, where police also showed up in force.

Mr Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 2000km northeast of Moscow.

Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was being held delayed its release, according to Ivan Zhdanov, Mr Navalny’s close ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

But eventually he confirmed that a hearse carrying the body had set out for the church.

Authorities originally said they couldn’t turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests.

Ms Navalnaya, 69, made a video appeal to Putin to release it so she could bury her son with dignity.

Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Mr Navalny’s supporters, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media.

They also struggled to find a hearse.

“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Ms Yarmysh said Thursday.

Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Mr Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organised big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe.

Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.

It was not immediately clear who among Mr Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia.

Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organisations” by the Russian government in 2021.

The politician’s team said the funeral would be streamed live on Mr Navalny’s YouTube channel.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.

“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In a speech to European politicians on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would “arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband”.

Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Mr Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing Covid-19 restrictions, according to politician Yekaterina Duntsova.

Mr Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of February 27, 2015.

Ms Yarmysh also urged Mr Navalny’s supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honour Friday.

“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Ms Yarmysh said Thursday.

“But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when even when things were scary and difficult.”

This story appeared in the New York Post and is reproduced with permission.



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