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May 13, 12:02 PM EDT

Russian court rejects demand to imprison Kremlin foe Navalny

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MOSCOW (AP) -- A Moscow court on Wednesday turned down authorities' request to turn a suspended sentence for opposition leader Alexei Navalny into prison time.

Navalny was convicted in December of fraud and given a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence. His brother was sent to prison on charges of defrauding a French cosmetics company in a verdict seen as a political vendetta by the Kremlin.

Russia's prison service, backed by prosecutors, have appealed to convert Navalny's earlier suspended five-year sentence in a separate criminal case into a prison term, citing his recent misdemeanors such as Navalny's 15-day arrest for campaigning on the subway for an unauthorized rally.

Navalny, a leading foe of President Vladimir Putin who spearheaded the 2011-2012 mass protests in Moscow, rejected the accusations and argued that they have no basis in Russian law. The Lyublinsky district court on Wednesday rejected the prosecutors' demand.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Navalny said that official requests to put him behind bars are part of the Kremlin-driven efforts to hamper his opposition activities and also test a level of public support for him.

"As of now, the presidential administration has decided that a fallout from my conviction would be too big," he said.

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