Navalny ends hunger strike over life risks

Moscow, Russia: Alexei Navalny, a Kremlin critic, announced the end of a 24-day hunger strike to demand medical attention behind bars on Friday after allies said his life was in danger.

Navalny's personal doctors announced Thursday that he had undergone treatment at a civilian hospital and urged him to end his campaign.

"Taking into account the progress and all the circumstances, I am beginning to end my hunger strike," President Vladimir Putin's best-known critic said in an Instagram post.

He said that the process would take him 24 days, writing: "They say it's even harder" than the hunger strike.

Navalny's protest in prison had raised the stakes in a standoff between Putin and Western leaders, who warned that if Russia's most popular opposition leader died in custody, Moscow would face repercussions.

On March 31, the 44-year-old declared a hunger strike in his penal colony, asking to see an independent doctor for back pain and numbness in his arms and legs.

Navalny was imprisoned for more than two years in February on old embezzlement charges, which he claims are politically motivated, only weeks after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack.

'Gratitude' for supporters 

Navalny accuses Russian authorities of carrying out the nerve agent Novichok attack, which the Kremlin has repeatedly refuted.

His supporters had requested that he be given access to proper treatment and cautioned in mid-April that he could go into cardiac arrest "at any time," pleading with officials to transfer him to intensive care.

Several medical practitioners, including Navalny's personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva, attempted to visit him earlier this month but were either detained or turned away.

Navalny said that he made his decision based on the advice of his doctors, whom he "fully trusts," as well as the fact that some of his supporters also went on hunger strike in solidarity.

"Friends, my heart is full of love and gratitude for you, but I do not want anybody to suffer because of me," he said.

He added that he has been seen by civilian physicians twice and is undergoing medical tests, but he insisted on seeing an independent doctor due to numbness in his limbs.

Navalny's physicians, who said they reviewed his hospital medical findings, recommended that he be moved to a "new" hospital in Moscow for further testing and a complete diagnosis.

"What we saw, cannot be simply called bad or unprofessional -- it is monstrous," Vasilyeva wrote on Twitter on Friday.

'Tough' times ahead 

Lyubov Sobol, a key ally who went on a hunger strike in 2019 after she and several other opposition politicians were barred from running in local elections, said Friday that Navalny would face "very tough days" until he resumed eating.

"If anybody thinks that Alexei will feel better right away, that is not the case," she wrote on Facebook.

On Wednesday, thousands of Russians took to the streets in over 100 cities around the country to demand that Navalny be released from custody and receive medical attention.

The Kremlin downplayed the demonstrations, which resulted in nearly 2,000 arrests, but Navalny's allies credited public pressure and the protests with helping to secure proper treatment for Navalny.

His worsening condition in the penal colony 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow attracted harsh criticism from Western politicians, who demanded that Navalny be hospitalized and eventually released.

US President Joe Biden, who has tried to confront Russia on a wide range of issues, including the Ukraine crisis, warned Russia that if Navalny died in prison, there would be consequences.

When asked whether Navalny's hunger strike had ended, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters, "We remain extremely concerned about his health and safety, and we continue to call for his unconditional and immediate release."

The European Union, the United States, and other Western countries imposed a slew of sanctions on Moscow for his imprisonment and poisoning in Siberia last year.

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