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Russian prosecutor seeks 6 years jail for top Putin foe

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Russian prosecutor on Friday demanded a six-year jail sentence for Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny on embezzlement charges in a case he says is politically motivated.

"Six years in a standard regime penal colony and a million ruble ($30,000) fine," Navalny tweeted from the courtroom in the central Russian city of Kirov as the prosecutor read out the charges.

The prosecutor had moments earlier told the court that he wanted Navalny found guilty "and arrested in the courtroom" after the verdict is read out.

"I believe that the punishment proposed by the state is just and proportionate to the committed crime and the loss suffered by the state," prosecutor Sergei Bogdanov told the court.

"It will also serve as a lesson to others who intend to commit this sort of crime."

Navalny was set to issue his final statement later on Friday. A scheduling of the verdict was also expected.

The charismatic 37-year-old stands accused of causing a half-million-dollar loss to the budget of the northern Kirov region in a timber deal in 2009 when he acted as an unpaid advisor to the governor.

But Navalny, who plans to run for Moscow mayor this autumn, and his supporters see the case as part of the Kremlin's bid to silence critics of President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, a lawyer by training, has been leading his own defence and has repeatedly tried to prove that no one was hurt in the business deal. He has also argued that his own role in the deal was very limited.

The Kirov governor -- liberal-leaning veteran of politics Nikita Belykh -- has testified in court as a witness for the defence.

Navalny quickly emerged as the star of the anti-Putin street protests that erupted in Moscow in late 2011, drawing huge crowds with some of the most fervent speeches against the former KGB spy's 13-year-rule.

He has branded the ruling United Russia party as "the party of crooks and thieves" -- a catchphrase that has even been mentioned on Kremlin-controlled television.

Navalny also won a strong Internet following by blogging about corruption and starting a movement devoted to unearthing extreme examples of lavish state spending by lawmakers and ministers.

His growing clout has led some observers to predict a long political future and the protest leader himself has not ruled out a future presidential run.

But he has first set his sights on the Moscow mayoral seat in snap elections that have been called for September 8.

Incumbent pro-Kremlin mayor Sergei Sobyanin remains the overwhelming favourite and Navalny's bid would end prematurely if he is found guilty of the theft charges.

Even a suspended sentence would bar Navalny from running in elections for the duration of his conviction term.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130705/russian-prosecutor-seeks-6-years-jail-top-putin-foe