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Russian Court Overturns Conviction of Putin Opponent

FILE - Russian anti-corruption campaigner and prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen attending a hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Feb. 12, 2016. His conviction on an embezzling charge has been overturned.

The Russian Supreme Court has overturned a criminal conviction against opposition figure and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and sent the case back to the lower court for retrial.

Navalny was convicted in 2013 by a court in Kirov, Russia, and sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling timber worth $500,000 at the time from a state-owned company. The trial was largely perceived as a vendetta against the rising political star.

The conviction came two months before the Moscow mayoral election, in which he was a candidate. Navalny won more than a quarter of the vote.

Following unsuccessful appeals in Russia, Navalny, a trained lawyer, turned to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in February that Russia violated Navalny's right to a fair trial and ordered the government to pay him legal costs and damages.

Because of the conviction, Navalny was barred from participating in elections or holding office until 2033 — a restriction that has now been lifted, potentially enabling one of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent foes to run for president in 2018.

Navalny said Wednesday that he was not satisfied with the Supreme Court's decision to wipe out his conviction and order a new trial.

"I have absolutely no desire to go to Kirov again," he told reporters. "The [Supreme Court's] decision is aimed at complicating my political activities."

Navalny was a key leader of a series of large anti-government protests that erupted after the opposition alleged that December 2011 parliamentary elections had been marred by widespread fraud on behalf of the ruling United Russia party.

Putin has clamped down on opponents and civil society since he returned to the Kremlin in May 2012 after four years as prime minister.