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By Maria Tsvetkova
POKROV, Russia (Reuters) - Russian police stepped up security at the prison holding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday as his supporters prepared to stage a protest outside the facility to demand that authorities give him proper medical care.
Navalny, 44, a prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike last week in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.
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The Russian president's biggest critic says he'll refuse to eat until he gets the medical care he's being denied in a notorious prison colony. "I demand a doctor to be allowed to see me, and until that happens I will be on a hunger strike," Navalny said in the note. He said that he had been requesting medical assistance every day for almost a month but received little help.
A group of his allies said they would protest at the prison in the town of Pokrov 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow from Tuesday unless he saw a doctor of his choice and was given what they regarded as proper medicine.
Prison authorities say his condition is satisfactory and he has been provided with all necessary medical care.
Late on Monday, his allies said the protest would go ahead after Navalny said he was continuing his hunger strike, although he had a high temperature and bad cough and three inmates in his ward had been hospitalised with tuberculosis.
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The Russian penetentiary service claimed that Navalny has received a COVID-19 test but has not reported whether he has contracted the disease.Navalny received a COVID-19 test in the medical facility, according to the report, but the result remains unclear.
The pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper later cited the state prison service saying that Navalny had been moved to a sick bay and tested for the coronavirus.
On Tuesday morning, police officers, one with a police dog, set up a makeshift checkpoint in front of the prison gate and used a metal barrier to block the road 100 metres from it.
They closed the parking lot to all but prison staff, and checked the IDs of reporters and prison workers.
"It is now under a special (security) regime," a police woman told Reuters.
Antonina Romanova, a Navalny supporter, said she had come to show solidarity.
"I believe he is innocent. I'm fully on his side," she said. "It happens that for some reason the people who can sort things out in the country end up in jail," she said.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Katya Golubkova and Giles Elgood)
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The Biden administration imposed a raft of sanctions on Russian officials and entities on Tuesday in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. © YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised.