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Thousands detained at pro-Navalny rallies in Moscow

Russian police detained thousands of people who turned out to protest in support of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader arrested last weekend upon his return to Moscow.

Police made more than 3,000 arrests while dispersing the demonstrators, Reuters reported Sunday. Protesters rallied despite frigid temperatures and warnings that they would be subject to arrest for violating public gathering limits and attending an event that had not been cleared by authorities.

Reuters correspondents on the scene estimated up to 40,000 people marched in central Moscow in one of the largest unsanctioned public rallies in years. The Kremlin’s official estimate put the crowd size at only 4,000, according to the news service.

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Navalny’s wife Yulia, a participant in the rally, was briefly detained and has since been released.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. calls on Russian authorities "to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights.”

"I strongly support their right to peaceably assemble & condemn the violent arrests of the protestors.” Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians Iran talks set up delicate dance for Biden team House panel advances bill to repeal 2002 war authorization MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a tweet.

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Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Maine GOP rejects motion to censure Collins Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats MORE (R-Neb.) also spoke out against the arrests, saying in a statement that tens of thousands of Russians "took to the streets because they’re fed up with Putin and refuse to be silenced by his tyrannical regime."

"The free world has seen their bravery," Sasse, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added. "The Kremlin must release Alexei Navalny immediately, along with the thousands of Russians they’ve unjustly arrested in the last 24 hours."

Navalny last year took ill on a flight to Siberia and was taken to a hospital in Berlin, where doctors determined he had been poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Soon after leaving the hospital, the Kremlin told him that unless he returned to Moscow immediately, he would be in violation of the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and be subject to arrest when he did return.

Navalny, who has said his 2014 embezzlement conviction was politically motivated, returned to Moscow last weekend and was detained at the airport.