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Trial of Putin foe begins, swiftly adjourned

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny Wednesday went on trial on charges he says were ordered by President Vladimir Putin but the process was swiftly adjourned to allow the defence more time to prepare.

Hundreds of journalists and Navalny supporters descended on the provincial northern city of Kirov 900 kilometres (560 miles) from Moscow for the trial of Navalny and a co-defendant on embezzlement charges related to a timber deal.

But the first act in what the opposition claims is the latest political show trial in Putin's Russia was over within less than 40 minutes after the judge partially approved a request from the defence for more time.

Judge Sergei Blinov ordered the trial adjourned for one week until April 24, although the defence had asked for a longer period of one month.

Navalny, who risks up to 10 years in prison in the embezzlement case, has predicted he will be convicted and possibly jailed but warned it is only a matter of time before Putin falls from power.

Dressed in a white shirt without a tie and jeans and looking relaxed, Navalny sat with his lawyers and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov while supporters and media thronged the small courthouse.

Showing his confidence, Navalny flashed smiles and used his mobile phone to take a picture of the dozens of journalists pointing cameras at him.

The proceedings had got off to a chaotic start with judge Blinov's opening statements an almost inaudible mumble and Navalny supporters shouting at him to turn up the volume.

Navalny earlier arrived in Kirov on the night train from Moscow in a dramatic entrance that some bloggers compared to Vladimir Lenin's arrival in Russia by train ahead of the 1917 revolution.

"One way or another I am sure that during the hearing my innocence will be completely proved. But what decision the judge makes or whoever makes the decision, we'll see," Navalny said after the adjournment was announced.

"I won't go on about how the case is fabricated and falsified. I am completely innocent," he said. Noting that he had posted the case documents online, he added: "I think any person even without legal education can make sure of this."

The process is a potential turning point in the standoff between the Kremlin and the opposition that erupted with mass opposition protests in the winter of 2011-2102 ahead of Putin's return for a third Kremlin term last May.

It is also just the latest trial in post-Soviet Russia to be denounced by the opposition as a political act of revenge by Putin, after the jailing of anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the radical punk group Pussy Riot.

Navalny is charged with organising the misappropriation in a timber deal of more than 16 million rubles ($512,000/388,000 euros) from the Kirov regional government that he advised in 2009.

Navalny, 36, a fresh-faced lawyer who was quick to realise the growing political importance of the Internet in Russia, raised the stakes ahead of the trial by announcing earlier this month he wanted to stand for president.

Judge Blinov, at 35 a contemporary of Navalny, has according to the New Times weekly over the last four months handed out 25 convictions and no acquittals.

Russia's respected liberal former finance minister Alexei Kudrin wrote on his blog overnight that the case against Navalny resembled "time travel" back to Soviet times.

Navalny emerged as by far the most eloquent of the protest leaders in the anti-Putin rallies, showing with his canny use of contemporary slang that he is in touch with the people.

His anti-corruption campaign has won a huge following on the Internet, boldly making claims against powerful foes like Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

But he still faces a struggle to make an impact beyond Moscow at a national level, with polls showing that only a third of Russians know who he is.

Navalny's claims that the case is a political set-up were at least partially confirmed this week by the spokesman of the Investigative Committee who said the opposition leader had drawn attention to himself with his "teasing" of the Kremlin.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130417/trial-putin-foe-begins-swiftly-adjourned