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Sentence Suspended for Russian Opposition Leader

A Russian appeals court has suspended the five-year prison sentence of anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny was convicted on July 19 of organizing the 2009 theft of some $500,000 from a timber firm after a trial he described as politically motivated. He was unexpectedly released from prison the following day and allowed to continue his mayoral campaign after thousands of supporters protested in central Moscow.

On Wednesday, the appeals court in the northern Russian region of Kirov suspended his five-year sentence, and that of his co-accused, Pyotr Ofitserov.

While the suspension of his sentence keeps him out of jail, his conviction prevents him from running in future elections.

Navalny suggested Wednesday that the court ruling was dictated by the Kremlin.

"This decision to suspend my five-year sentence was not made here, it was made personally by Vladimir Putin. I do not have an idea of what exactly is happening in his head and why he has changed his decision. It is clear that the authorities are doing their utmost to pull me out of the political fight."

Navalny vowed to remain active in Russian politics.

Last month Navalny sparked protests by thousands of supporters when he declared Russia's September 8 Moscow mayoral election was rigged to hand victory to an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny said the vote count had many serious violations and demanded a runoff be held between him and Kremlin-backed rival Sergei Sobyanin.

The 37-year-old opposition leader said Monday there was "clear falsification" of votes and Sobyanin's majority was "guaranteed only by fraud."

Results showed incumbent Sobyanin winning a little more than 51 percent of the vote to Navalny's 27 percent.

Kremlin-backed Sobyanin was widely expected to win. He is Russian President Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff. Sobyanin was appointed mayor three years ago.

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