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Russia resumes trial of Putin critic Navalny

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Alexei Navalny, the crowd-rousing Russian protest leader, goes back on trial on Wednesday on embezzlement charges that he claims were ordered by President Vladimir Putin to foil a dangerous political rival.

Navalny faces up to a decade in a prison camp if found guilty in the trial which Putin's opponents slam as yet another overtly political show trial after the jailing of anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and punk band Pussy Riot.

The 36-year-old lawyer with bright blue eyes and the confident ability to rally crowds, has rattled the Kremlin with his rapid emergence as a tireless anti-corruption campaigner and his openly declared ambition to stand as president.

The new hearing in the provincial city of Kirov follows a week-long adjournment after Navalny's lawyers requested more time to read the case papers.

More than a hundred journalists are expected to attend and both Navalny's supporters and opponents have permission to hold separate rallies outside the court.

The packed first day of the trial on April 17 lasted only around 40 minutes, with Navalny appearing calm and collected in a crisp white shirt and blue jeans, while the judge mumbled inaudibly.

Navalny's lawyers had filed a separate complaint over lack of time to read the materials to Kirov regional court, which it rejected Tuesday.

The day after the trial began, investigators announced that they had launched a new fraud probe against Navalny and his brother Oleg, to be folded into an existing probe.

"That means we had a successful trip," Navalny wrote airily on Twitter.

A total of five probes are now aimed at the opposition leader, who if he is even given a suspended sentence at the current trial will be banned from ever standing for office.

"I will grin and bear it. One day we will get even for all of them at once," he wrote on his popular blog.

Navalny is accused of causing a loss to the regional government of $500,000 through a timber deal while acting as an advisor. The head of a timber company, Pyotr Ofitserov, has gone on trial with him on the same charges.

Navalny's team has posted the entire charges on a website, and insists that they were fabricated on Putin's orders.

But media loyal to the Kremlin has gone on an offensive against Navalny, with polls suggesting that his public support is now falling.

"The money stolen by Navalny was enough to build 30 hockey pitches or to repair five kilometres (three miles) of highway," Rossiya 24 state television claimed on the first day of the trial.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile lamented to state television on Monday that "we have no (opposition) leaders who are ready to take responsibility".

State pollsters VTsIOM found in a survey published Tuesday that 51 percent of Russians had "negative" feelings about Navalny, 20 percent more than the same time last year.

Nevertheless, the poll demonstrated growing awareness of Navalny due to his high-profile trial. Fifty-three percent said they knew who Navalny was -- compared with 37 percent in a different survey last month.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130423/russia-resumes-trial-putin-critic-navalny