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Putin foe faces verdict that could end Kremlin bid

The Kremlin critic and anti-corruption whistleblower is on trial for embezzlement in the provincial city of Kirov.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny leaves a detention centre in Moscow on March 6, 2015

Navalny, a Kremlin critic and anti-corruption whistleblower, is on trial for embezzlement in the provincial city of Kirov.

The judge opened a hearing that is set to announce the verdict on Wednesday afternoon and Navalny tweeted from the courtroom that it was clear from the wording of the judge the verdict would be a guilty one.

Verdict hearings in Russian courts can take hours and sometimes days as judges are required to read many of the case materials out loud before ruling on them.

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In December, Navalny wrong-footed the Kremlin by announcing his intention to run for president in 2018, while Putin has yet to confirm his expected participation.

The court is holding a retrial in Navalny's case after the European Court of Human Rights last year quashed the original 2013 ruling, saying that the politician and his co-defendant, businessman Pyotr Ofitserov, did not have a fair trial.

The original trial ended by slapping Navalny with a five-year suspended sentence over a timber deal, a verdict that the politician and his supporters say was politically motivated.

Russia's supreme court after the ECHR decision ordered that Navalny and Ofitserov face a retrial and prosecutors have asked the judge to again impose the same sentence.

A conviction would disqualify him from standing for office, eliminating the most prominent and eloquent representative of the opposition to Putin.

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Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday that he did not want to comment ahead of the court decision.

"The decisions that will be taken, it's unlikely that anyone can contest them if it's not permitted by law," Peskov added.

Asked if Navalny's possible exclusion would make the 2018 elections look bad to international observers, Peskov said: "As for how it will look, here we don't consider any fears to be appropriate."

The previous 2013 verdict in Kirov forced Navalny to step back off from frontline politics and concentrate on digging up compromising information on the lavish lifestyles of top politicians and officials.

Navalny, a 40-year-old lawyer, came to fame with punchy oratory at mass rallies in 2011 and 2012 against Putin's return to the Kremlin.

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He came second in Moscow's 2012 mayoral race after taking to the streets with a Western-style campaign against a Kremlin-backed incumbent.

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