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Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny ends hunger strike

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny gravely ill
Kremlin critic Navalny transferred to prison hospital with serious illness 02:58

Moscow — Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny said on Friday that he had decided to end his nearly three-week-long hunger strike after being warned by his doctors that continuing it would put his life at serious risk. The 44-year-old politician said in an Instagram post published by his allies on the 24th day of his strike that he would end his protest demanding independent medical care, having now been examined by non-prison doctors. 

Navalny's announcement followed a round of large protests, drawing thousands of people onto the streets on Wednesday in dozens of cities across Russia, in support of the Kremlin critic. 

According to the outspoken foe of President Vladimir Putin, he was examined twice on Thursday by civilian doctors, which he and his allies saw as significant progress toward meeting their demands.

He said he would continue to demand that his own personal physician be permitted to examine him, after weeks complaining of numbness in his legs and arms. It was that demand to see his own doctors, rather than the prison medics, that sparked his hunger strike.

Navalny's trademark dark humor came out in his latest correspondence, in which he thanked his supporters and credited their pressure on the government for getting him into a non-prison medical facility for checks, but noted the warning from doctors that he should stop refusing food.

"Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress," he was quoted as saying in the Instagram post. "Well, and — I will say frankly — their words that the tests show: 'In a minimum time there will be no one to treat' ... mmm ... seem to me worthy of noting."

He said he would start the process of coming off the hunger strike, which he said would be a 24-day process. 

Russian officials have repeatedly denied Navalny's doctors access to him in prison, insisting that his condition was satisfactory and that he was getting all the medical attention he needed. 

A prison photo of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, which was included in a March 29, 2021 Instagram post attributed to him, is seen in a screengrab from Instagram. Instagram/Alexey Navalny

Navalny was sentenced earlier this year to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence. He was arrested in January soon after his return to Moscow from Berlin, where he spent five months recovering from severe poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Russian authorities have denied accusations from Navalny's team and the U.S. and its allies that Putin's government was behind the attack on the president's chief domestic opponent.

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