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Hundreds welcome Russia opposition leader to Moscow after prison release

Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny (center right) addresses supporters and journalists upon his arrival in Moscow Saturday.Vasily Maximov / AFP - Getty Images

Hundreds of people turned out to welcome Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as arrived at a Moscow train station on Saturday morning after his unexpected release on bail from prison.

Navalny was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison at a court in the city of Kirov on Thursday. Following the verdict, thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kirov, as well as other cities, in his support.

He plans to take part in Moscow mayoral elections, scheduled for September.

On arrival to Moscow, he thanked his supporters and said that if it was not for them, he would not be standing there. 

“If someone had told me two days ago, ‘don’t worry, in two days you will be standing at Yaroslavsky train station’ I would not [have] believed them … I am sorry that I didn’t believe enough in you,” he said.

Navalny denies the charges of stealing around $494,000 from the state owned company Kirovles, and says the charges are politically motivated.

Following his sentence on Thursday, Russia’s financial market fell by a reported 2 percent, The Financial Times reported, as many condemned the court ruling internationally.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul posted a message on Twitter saying he “deeply disappointed in the conviction of @Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial.”

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmity Peskov said on Friday that if Navalny wanted clemency, he should admit his guilt.

Navalny rose to prominence during the mass anti-Putin protests following the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia in late 2011 and early 2012. Hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow in sub-zero temperatures in the largest anti-government protests of Putin’s time in office.

A trained lawyer and active anti-corruption blogger, Navalny coined one of the main slogans of the protest movement by calling Putin’s ruling United Russia a “party of thieves and crooks.”

Navalny has also said he plans to take part in the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for 2018.

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