Massive crowd defies Putin to mourn Navalny

Mourners gather outside the church in Moscow where the funeral was held for Alexei Navalny.

Mourners gather outside the church in Moscow where the funeral was held for Alexei Navalny. Photo: Getty

Thousands of people have chanted Alexei Navalny’s name and say they will not forgive the Russian authorities for his death as the opposition leader was laid to rest in Moscow.

In video streamed from the Borisovskyoe cemetery, Navalny’s mother Lyudmila and father Anatoly stooped over his open coffin to kiss him for the last time as a small group of musicians played.

Crossing themselves, mourners stepped forward to caress his face before a priest gently placed a white shroud over him and the coffin was closed.

The music from the Terminator 2 movie was also played, which Navalny’s wife said was his favourite movie.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic inside Russia, died at the age of 47 in an Arctic penal colony on February 16, sparking accusations from his supporters that he had been murdered.

The Kremlin has denied any state involvement in his death.

The authorities have outlawed his movement as “extremist” and cast his supporters as US-backed troublemakers out to foment revolution.

Crowd of thousands

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had nothing to say to Navalny’s family.

Many thousands of people turned out to pay their respects at the cemetery and outside the Soothe My Sorrows church in southeast Moscow where Orthodox priests held a short funeral service before the body was taken to the cemetery.

Among the large crowd, many people clutched bunches of flowers and some joined in chants – “Russia will be free”, “No to war”, “Russia without Putin”, “We won’t forgive” and “Putin is a murderer”.

Police were present in large numbers but did not intervene.

“I came here to say goodbye to Navalny. What does that mean for me? I don’t even know how to explain it,” said a 25-year-old man who gave his name as Kirill.

“It’s very sad for the future of Russia … We won’t give up, we will believe in something better.”

‘A man who wasn’t afraid’

A young woman, Kamila, said: “There are more than 10,000 people here, and no one is afraid … We came here in order to honour the memory of a man who also wasn’t afraid, who wasn’t afraid of anything.”

Inside the church, Navalny’s mother Lyudmila sat holding a candle as priests in white robes stood over the coffin.

Navalny’s top aides, all based outside Russia, struggled to contain their emotions as they broadcast live video of the farewell to their leader.

“This is a photograph that is very hard to look at,” said one of them, Ruslan Shaveddinov.

State media gave scant coverage to the funeral.

The RIA news agency reported the fact of Navalny’s burial, noting the presence of foreign envoys including the US, French and German ambassadors, and recalled that he had been jailed on a host of charges including fraud, contempt of court and extremism.

Navalny denied all those charges, saying they had been trumped up by the authorities to silence his criticism of Putin.

More than a quarter of a million people watched the farewell to Navalny on his YouTube channel, which is blocked inside Russia.

Allies of Navalny outside Russia have called on people who want to honour his memory but could not attend his funeral service to instead go to memorials to Soviet-era repression in their own towns on Friday at 7pm.

The Kremlin said any unsanctioned gatherings in support of Navalny would violate the law.

“Just a reminder that we have a law that must be followed. Any unauthorised gatherings will be in violation of the law, and those who participate in them will be held accountable – again, in line with the current law,” Peskov said.

Navalny’s wife Yulia and two children, who are living outside Russia, did not attend the funeral.

Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband’s work, thanked him for “26 years of absolute happiness”.

She posted on X: “I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try my best to make you up there happy for me and proud of me. I don’t know if I’ll manage it or not but I will try.”

In the run-up to Navalny’s funeral, his allies accused the authorities of blocking their plans to hold a bigger civil memorial service.

The Kremlin has said it has nothing to do with Navalny’s funeral arrangements.

-with AAP

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