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Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Is Ending His Hunger Strike

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Alexei Navalny's 24-day hunger strike is over. The Russian opposition leader remains in prison. Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic, says he's now getting the medical attention he needs thanks to his supporters at home and abroad. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Even from his prison outside Moscow, Alexei Navalny manages to get messages out to his millions of followers on social media. Today he posted that before his hunger strike, requests for medical attention were ignored by prison staff, but now he's seen civilian doctors twice. Navalny was demanding care for back pain and the loss of sensation in one of his legs, which he said may be linked to his poisoning with a rare nerve agent last summer. Navalny wrote, his heart was full of love and gratitude to the good people who've supported him across Russia and around the world.

On Wednesday, Russians took to the streets demanding Navalny be released. They turned out in cities large and small, from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea, despite the risk of arrest and police beatings. Outside Russia, President Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron all expressed concern for Navalny's health. Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya says President Putin was wrong if he thought he could simply lock Navalny away.

TATIANA STANOVAYA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Even though he's been denied platforms like his YouTube channel," she says, "Navalny continues to drive Russia's political agenda." Still, more than three weeks of a hunger strike have depleted his strength, and Navalny's own doctors are now calling for him to be transferred to a hospital in Moscow for treatment. One of Navalny's closest aides, Lyubov Sobol, went on a month-long hunger strike herself two years ago.

LYUBOV SOBOL: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Navalny's condition is still alarming," she says, "because it takes days and weeks for the body to accept normal food again." Sobol remains defiant.

SOBOL: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says Navalny's team will continue fighting for his life and freedom, no matter how the Kremlin reacts. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.