Russia's jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has urged thousands of supporters to turn out for nationwide rallies on President Vladimir Putin's birthday today to protest against his nearly two-decade rule. The charismatic anti-corruption campaigner who has declared his intention to run in a presidential election next March to unseat Putin, is hoping to see protests in some 80 Russian cities with the main rallies in Putin's hometown of Saint Petersburg and the capital Moscow. In an address dictated from his prison cell, the 41- year-old Yale-educated lawyer, with a street-smart image and a penchant for catchy slogans, compared life under Putin's regime to a forced diet of "turnip." "If we do nothing, they will be feeding us this damn turnip for the rest of our lives. And our children too," Navalny said this week. A court on Monday sentenced him to 20 days in jail on charges of repeatedly violating a law on organising public meetings. Contested elections along with Navalny's release from jail and permission for him to put his name on the ballot are the opposition's top demands. The authorities in Moscow and Saint Petersburg have refused to allow the protesters to gather in the city centre, and the rallies could end in violence. In a strongly-worded video address released by Navalny's campaign team, one of Russia's most acclaimed film directors, Andrei Zvyagintsev, slammed Putin for hindering Navalny. He criticised the prospect of Russians voting in polls where "we are asked to choose one out of one." "It's just revolting watching this spectacle," he said. Putin, who turns 65, has ruled over Russia since 1999.
He said this week he has not yet decided whether he will seek another six-year term. But he is widely expected to run in March elections and win. Navalny brought tens of thousands of supporters -- many of them students and schoolchildren -- onto the streets for unauthorised protests across the country on March 26 and June 12. The participation of minors in opposition rallies stunned the authorities, with the protests ending in violent clashes. Police arrested more than 1,000 people in Moscow alone at the March 26 demonstration.