Russian media debate Navalny's fate

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, left, poses with his former colleague Pyotr Ofitserov in the court in Kirov, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017Image source, Sergei Shistarev/AP
Image caption,
Alexei Navalny (L) said in the court room he was not deterred by his guilty verdict

Russian media commentators are debating whether a court decision to find main opposition leader Alexei Navalny guilty of embezzlement will really end his bid to challenge Vladimir Putin for the presidency next year.

'Groundhog Day'

Opposition websites see the case as part of an open-ended process to frustrate Mr Navalny's electoral process.

The Dozhd online TV channel dubs it "Groundhog Day in Kirov", in reference to the famous US comedy film about a day that repeats itself endlessly. It also refers to Mr Navalny's first trial in 2013 on the same charges, which was later overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Image source,
Image caption,
Pro-Kremlin MP Vitaly Milonov was quick to suggest that Mr Navalny's campaign office in St Petersburg must be closed

Pro-Kremlin media, including the state-run broadcasters, have not given the verdict top-story treatment.

The website of the flagship Vesti TV news programme is already promoting a demand by pro-Kremlin St Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov to have Mr Navalny's campaign office in that city shut down on the grounds that he has "neither the moral nor legal right to stand for office".

'Strangling a kitten'

Social media users have largely echoed Mr Navalny's dismissal of the verdict, and mocked the protracted court proceedings.

The popular satirical Twitter account Auntie Rosa looks to a future when "the children, then the grandchildren of today's judges went on and on, reading out the same verdict in the case".

Others follow Mr Navalny's lead in noting striking similarities in the wording of the latest verdict and that delivered in the earlier case.

Twitter user MaryEl wonders whether "there [has] been a case in the history of the European Court of Human Rights when they advised quashing a verdict, and after it was quashed another exact verdict was delivered?"

Image source, Twitter\@maryeL2002

Opposition blogger Roman Dobrokhotov denounces the "disgusting spectacle of a judge knowingly reading out an unlawful verdict - like watching someone strangle a kitten".

Twitter user Uncle Shu muses whether the court clerk gave the judge the old verdict to read out by mistake "but he didn't even notice".

Pro-Kremlin journalist Oleg Lurye is certain Mr Navalny cannot stand for office now, and is equally sure that he "will not repay the 12m roubles collected" for his election campaign.

But political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky thinks the verdict may galvanise Mr Navalny's support. He tells Interfax news agency: "This situation will radicalise his supporters, who are many... and a substantial increase in their numbers is possible."

Image source, Facebook\Aleksey Navalny
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Alexei Navalny live-streamed the court session via his official Facebook page

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