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Russia’s imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he will end his hunger strike after getting medical attention and advice that his life would be at risk. 

Key points:

  • Independent medical treatment was cited as a reason for the change 
  • Mr Navalny also ended the strike as supporters were refusing to eat in solidarity 
  • The vocal Putin critic is serving two-and-a-half years’ jail for embezzelment charges

Mr Navalny started the strike March 31, after developing severe pain in his back and loss of sensation in his legs.

In an Instagram post on the 24th day of his hunger strike, Mr Navalny said he would continue to demand a visit from his doctor to address numbness in his legs and arms — his main demand.

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But the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin said he would stop the strike after having been examined by doctors who were not affiliated with the prison doctors, something he called “huge progress”. 

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Prison officials have previously said he was getting sufficient medical help — something Mr Navalny has repeatedly denied.

Mr Navalny also acknowledged the mass pro-Navalny protests across Russia on Wednesday and multiple letters and statements supporting him from public figures and government officials around the globe.

Pro-Navalny supporters have staged some of the largest mass demonstrations Russia has had in years.(AP: Dmitri Lovetsky)

“Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress,” Mr Navalny said in his message from behind bars.

Another reason he was ending the hunger strike was that some of his supporters were refusing to eat in a show of solidarity with him, Mr Navalny said.

“Tears flowed from my eyes when I read that. God, I’m not even acquainted with these people, and they do this for me,” the 44-year-old said.

“Friends, my heart is full of love and gratitude for you, but I don’t want anyone physically suffering because of me.”Youtube Thousands across Russia demand Navalny release

He said he would start “coming out of the hunger strike” on Friday and the process of ending it would take 24 days.

In a Facebook post, Mr Navalny’s close ally Lyubov Sobol said exiting a hunger strike would involve “very difficult days”, especially as access to normal and fresh produce is limited in prison. 

“The first week of coming out is essentially the same hunger strike: You’re not allowed to eat anything, just drink juices and very thin porridges, in very little amount,” Ms Sobol wrote, who herself went on a hunger strike for 32 days in 2019. 

Navalny was at risk of cardiac arrest

Mr Navalny says he was poisoned by the Russian state.(AP: Pavel Golovkin)

Mr Navalny’s doctors said on Saturday they feared he was close to dying because his test results showed sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicated impaired kidneys.

He was transferred on Sunday from a penal colony east of Moscow to the hospital ward of another prison in Vladimir, a city 180-kilometres east of the capital.

The day after mass protests demanding his freedom swept across Russia, a team of his doctors released a letter urging him to end his hunger strike.

The letter revealed that Mr Navalny was taken to a regular hospital Tuesday in Vladimir, where he underwent tests and was examined by specialists “in accordance” with requests from his doctors.

It said they were given the results of those tests through his lawyers and family on Thursday.

The doctors said they would continue to insist on access to Mr Navalny but also urged him “to immediately stop the hunger strike in order to save life and health,” saying that they considered being examined by “civilian” doctors from outside the prison and undergoing “objective tests” enough to end the strike.

Kremlin continues to crack down on pro-Navalny network

Mr Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.

He was promptly put on trial for violating terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which he says was politically-motivated.

He was ordered to serve the rest of a two-and-a-half-year sentence.

Mr Navalny’s arrest triggered mass protests — the biggest show of defiance the Kremlin has encountered in years.

The Kremlin responded with a harsh crackdown: arresting thousands; jailing hundreds; and targeted Mr Navalny’s aides and associates with detentions and raids. His top allies have since been slapped with criminal charges and put under house arrest.

Last week, Russian authorities took the pressure to a new level, with the Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioning a court to label as his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his network of regional offices as extremist groups.

Human rights activists say such a move would paralyze their activities and expose their members and donors to prison sentences of up to 10 years.

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