Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny bailed after protests across Russia

Alexei Navalny, a leading critic of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, has been released on bail, a day after he was sentenced to five years in prison for charges he claims are politically motivated.

Navalny's release Friday came after a surprise request by prosecutors, who said that the blogger and protest organizer should be allowed his right to seek election in this fall's race for Moscow mayor.

He will remain free — and eligible for public office — pending the outcome of an appeal against his conviction for embezzlement.

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Navalny had announced that he would withdraw his candidacy from the Sept. 8 mayoral election in protest at his conviction, and after his release said he was undecided whether to reenter the running.

The state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying:

"Regarding my participation in the elections, I am not some kind of a kitten or a puppy to whom they first say it can't participate in the elections and then they say, 'Let's release him for a while so he can participate in the elections.'"

One of his bail conditions is that he not travel outside of the Russian capital.

The conviction of Navalny by a court in the city of Kirov, which found that he misappropriated $500,000 in a lumber deal while serving as an adviser to the Kirov region's governor, has brought widespread condemnation, including from the United States.

Several thousand protesters gathered outside the Kremlin in Moscow on Thursday to decry the verdict, according to Agence France-Presse, as well as in central St. Petersburg. 

One watchdog told AFP that more than 200 people were arrested at the Moscow demonstration, which did not have authorization from the city authorities.