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Head of defunct Russian opposition group pulled off flight

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of a Russian opposition group that announced its shutdown last week said he was pulled off an airliner and detained by police Monday.

Andrei Pivovarov, the leader of Open Russia, said his flight was already taxiing for takeoff at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airpo when it was halted and he was removed.

A post on his Twitter account later said he had been taken to the Investigative Committee offices on suspicion of managing an organization that has been determined to be undesirable. A conviction for such activity could carry a prison sentence of up to six years.

Pivovarov announced last week that Open Russia was ceasing operation to protect its members from prosecution. Open Russia was financed by tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

A 2015 Russian law made membership in “undesirable” organizations a criminal offense. The government has used the law to ban about 30 groups.

An earlier law obliges non-governmental groups that receive foreign funding and engage in activities loosely described as political to register as “foreign agents.”

Authorities have described the laws as a response to alleged Western efforts to undermine Russia, but critics describe them as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to stifle dissent.

The government has intensified its crackdown on the opposition as the country is preparing for a September parliamentary elections and the popularity of the main Kremlin-backed party, United Russia, has waned.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most determined political foe, was sentenced to that 2 1/2 years in prison in February after his return from Germany, where he spent five months recuperating from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusations.

The Associated Press