KIROV, Russia -- Alexei Navalny, a charismatic opposition leader who exposed high-level corruption and mocked the Kremlin, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for embezzlement Thursday, in a verdict that set off street protests and drew condemnation from the West.
Soon afterward, in an unexpected development, prosecutors asked that the Moscow mayoral candidate be kept free pending appeal. The request to have him released during his appeal could be an attempt by officials to soothe public anger and to lend legitimacy to September's mayoral race, which a Kremlin-backed incumbent is expected to win.
Several thousand opposition supporters gathered just outside the Kremlin to protest Navalny's conviction and sentence.
Navalny, a popular blogger and corruption-fighting lawyer, rose to rock star status among the opposition during a series of massive protests in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin's re-election to a third presidential term in March 2012.
Sentencing Navalny is the latest move in a multipronged crackdown on dissent that followed Putin's inauguration. -- AP