One day after being convicted on embezzlement charges, a Russian judge released the country’s most prominent opposition leader from police custody Friday in the wake of massive angry protests in Russia’s largest cities.

Alexei A. Navalny was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in what critics called a politically motivated, selective prosecution meant to silence opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Navalny had famously called Putin’s United Russia political group the “party of swindlers and thieves.”

The release allows Navalny, a populist, to run for the position of mayor of Moscow in September. He has grown in stature since his beginning as an anti-corruption blogger and leader of street protests.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

Although the prosecutor’s motivation was not clear, Mr. Navalny’s supporters believed the protests had swung the balance.

As crowds of demonstrators swirled near Manezh Square in Moscow on Thursday night, Dmitri Gudkov, a political opposition leader and member of Parliament who attended Mr. Navalny’s sentencing, wrote on Twitter: “Tomorrow morning he may be released. Manezh, this is thanks to you!” That was later confirmed by Vadim Kobzev, Mr. Navalny’s lawyer, who called it “a clearly political decision.”

By early morning on Friday, as many as 200 people had been detained in Moscow, Aleksei Mayorov, a municipal security official, told Interfax. Despite tight security, protesters managed to mass at a major intersection on Thursday night and at one point the crowds blocked the main artery leading to the Kremlin gates. The police estimated the crowd at 2,000, while protesters said it was upward of 5,000.

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