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Russian authorities extend a probe into Navalny’s death as allies accuse officials of cover-up

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday was denied access to a morgue where his body was believed to be kept after his death in an Arctic penal colony, and Navalny’s allies accused authorities of trying to hide evidence.

Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said that the Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation agency, informed Lyudmila Navalnaya that the cause of her son’s death remained unknown and that the official probe had been extended. “They lie, buy time for themselves and do not even hide it,” Yarmysh posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Many world leaders blamed President Vladimir Putin and his government for Navalny’s death Friday at age 47. The Kremlin has fiercely rejected the accusations. Navalny’s team said he was “murdered,” and charged that officials’ refusal to hand over his body was part of a cover-up.

Yarmysh said that Navalny’s mother and his lawyers weren’t allowed into the morgue in Salekhard on Monday morning. The staff didn’t answer when they asked if the body was there, Yarmysh said.

Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov denounced the authorities as “lackeys and liars.” “It’s clear what they are doing now — covering up the traces of their crime,” he wrote Monday.

Navalny’s death has deprived the Russian opposition of its most well-known and inspiring politician less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power. It dealt a devastating blow to many Russians, who had seen Navalny as a hope for political change following his unrelenting criticism of the Kremlin.

Nearly 300 people have been detained by police in Russia as they streamed to ad-hoc memorials and monuments to victims of political repression with flowers and candles to pay tribute to Navalny, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests. The U.S. and British ambassadors also mourned Navalny’s death at a memorial in Moscow.

Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials across the country and were removing flowers at night, but they kept appearing.

Over 50,000 people have submitted requests to the Russian government asking for Navalny’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn’t be revived, the service said, adding that the cause of death is still “being established.”

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He received three prison terms since his arrest, on a number of charges he has rejected as politically motivated.

After the last verdict that handed him a 19-year term, Navalny said he understood he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime.”

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, was in Brussels Monday and is expected to meet with European Union foreign ministers and other EU officials. On Sunday, she published a picture of the couple on Instagram in her first social media post since her husband’s death, with the caption “I love you.”

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