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Canada summons Russian ambassador in protest of Alexei Navalny's death

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OTTAWA -

Canada has summoned the Kremlin's ambassador in Ottawa for a lambasting over the reported death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny while in Russian custody, Global Affairs Canada says.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly requested that Ambassador Oleg Stepanov be summoned on Wednesday to hear Canada's rebuke.

Russia's prison agency said Friday that Navalny, who was serving a 19-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony, felt unwell and lost consciousness after going for a walk and could not be revived.

President Vladimir Putin was quickly blamed for the death of his political opponent and leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to hold Russia to account.

A senior Canadian official conveyed the country's "strong condemnation" to Stepanov, Joly's office said in a written statement late Wednesday afternoon.

The official also called on the Russian government to conduct a full and transparent inquiry into the death and release Navalny's body to his family without delay.

"He also expressed concern for other political prisoners in Russia and emphasized the need for Russia to protect rather than punish/arrest the Russian citizens who are mourning the loss of Navalny," Joly's office said.

"Alexei Navalny was a symbol of hope for the Russian people and his legacy will live on for generations to come. Canada has already sanctioned those involved in the human rights abuses against Navalny, and we will join our partners in holding those responsible for his death to account as well."

Following fiercely critical comments from Trudeau, Joly and others Friday, Russia's embassy posted a social media message urging Canada to stop "interfering into our internal affairs."

"Every death is a tragedy. But the death of a Russian citizen is strictly Russia's matter," the embassy said.

Russian authorities have said that the cause of Navalny's death is still unknown and refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, members of Navalny's team say.

They accuse the government of stalling to try to hide evidence.

On Monday, Navalny's widow, Yulia, released a video accusing Putin of killing her husband and alleged the refusal to release his body was part of a coverup.

"They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably," she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected her allegations, telling reporters that "these are absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state."

Navalny's death has deprived the Russian opposition of its best-known and most inspiring dissident less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power.

Many Russians had seen Navalny as a rare hope for political change amid Putin's unrelenting crackdown on the opposition.

Since Navalny's death, about 400 people have been detained across in Russia as they tried to pay tribute to him with flowers and candles, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials to victims of Soviet repression across the country that were being used as sites to leave makeshift tributes to Navalny. Police removed the flowers at night, but more keep appearing.

Over 75,000 people have submitted requests to the government asking for Navalny's remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

With files from The Associated Press.

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