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Putin's leading rival arrested amid huge Russia protests

Alexei Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption had called for the protests. Credit: AP

Russia's leading opposition figure has been arrested as Russia witnessed the biggest sign of public unrest in five years.

Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who is leading the opposition to Vladimir Putin, was held as he headed towards a banned protest attended by thousands of his supporters in Moscow's Pushkin Square.

Violence and arrests followed as crowds of hundreds or thousands turned out in Russia's biggest cities. Credit: AP

Hundreds of thousands have defied authorities to demonstrate across the country despite the police warning they will not be responsible for "negative consequences".

The public unrest was the largest since the massive 2011-12 demonstrations that followed a fraud-tainted parliamentary election.

A detained woman was among Alexei Navalny's supporters to be held in a police van. Credit: AP

Mr Navalny was last month found guilty of embezzlement in a retrial of a 2013 fraud case.

The decision effectively derailed his plan to run for president next year.

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