Thursday, 27 October 2016

North Lanarkshire Update

I understand that A4ES has now sent out revised and improved offers of settlement to all Classroom Assistant clients in North Lanarkshire via HBJ Gateley.

Well over half have also been returned their offers which is excellent news because getting the paperwork back to A4ES quickly will speed up payment from the Council.

As soon as I receive news about the long-awaited backdated payments to Home Support workers, I will share the details on the blog site.

In the meantime it's good to know that things appear, at long last, to be moving forwards. 


North Lanarkshire Update (117/10/16)

Good news from North Lanarkshire is like waiting for a bus - you hang around for ages, growing increasingly frustrated, then two come along at once.

In this case, the 'second bus' to arrive is news of revised settlement offers for Classroom Assistants who were part of the long-running case at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal involving Sheltered Housing Wardens and Clerical Assistants as well.

Individual letters will be sent out to all A4ES (Classroom Assistant) clients later this week which will no doubt be warmly welcomed by all of the individuals concerned.


North Lanarkshire Update (03/08/16)

As regular readers know Action 4 Equality Scotland continued the fight for a fair equal pay settlement on behalf of for NLC Classroom Assistants at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal.

The Council's position was that Classroom Assistants could not compare their pay to that of an NLC Gardener even though there was only one single point of difference between the two jobs.

The Employment Tribunal subsequently appointed an Independent Expert to consider in detail the responsibilities and scores of the two (male and female) jobs - and that process has been underway behind the scenes.

In my view the report of the Independent Expert will find in favour of the Classroom Assistants although there are now encouraging signs that NLC is now prepared to reach a settlement of these long running cases.

The cases involve A4ES clients only because the trade unions in North Lanarkshire Council are not party to these claims. 


NLC Update (24/04/16)

Great news for some more of the A4ES clients in North Lanarkshire who are still fighting for equal pay.

North Lanarkshire has finally conceded the 'equal value' argument in respect of Sheltered Housing Wardens and Clerical Assistants, so next week's hearing will still go ahead, but on the basis of determining an appropriate remedy for the A4ES claimants involved.

Date - Wednesday 27th April 2016
Time - 10 am
Venue - Eagle Building, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS

The Council is still sticking to its argument that Classroom Assistants are not of equal value to a Gardener (2), so the fight will go on for this particular group.

Welcoming the news Stefan Cross QC said:

"We are delighted that North Lanarkshire Council has finally come to its senses in respect of  Sheltered Housing Wardens and Clerical Assistants and we will ensure that the awards for these two groups are now implemented as quickly as possible. 

"Where appropriate, the awards will be made on a pensionable basis which means that claimants will have equality of access to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

"For reasons best known to itself the Council is stubbornly refusing to agree that the job of a Classroom Assistant is of equal value to that of a Gardener. I find it incredible that a Labour council is splitting hairs over two jobs that are separated by just one single point on the council's job evaluation scheme which was severely criticised at the long-running Glasgow Employment Tribunal.

"I suspect that many people will find it very hard to accept that a Classroom Assistant's job on 260 points is not worth at least the same as a Gardener (2) on 261 points"

Now I am familiar with the duties and responsibilities of both of these jobs, from my previous union experience with NUPE and my role as Head of Local Government for Unison in Scotland.

So if you ask me, there's no way that a Classroom Assistant's job doesn't measure up to to the work done by a council gardener.

North Lanarkshire Update (19/03/16)

A reconvened Employment Tribunal hearing is scheduled for next week (27th April) to continue the case against North Lanarkshire Council on behalf of Sheltered Housing Wardens, Classroom Assistants and Clerical Assistants.

Despite the progress that appeared to have been made at the previous hearing in March, the North Lanarkshire is now having problems clarifying its position in respect of a number of important and outstanding issues.

So the various witnesses (claimants and comparators) will all have to appear at the Employment Tribunal next week in Glasgow even though North Lanarkshire has no real case to defend.

Which is another terrible waste of people's time and public money, if you ask me.

I thought that the new political leadership in North Lanarkshire was a sign that the Council might finally get its act together over equal pay, but for the moment at least things are still in an awful mess. 

I'm told that the new council leader, Cllr Jim Logue, receives regular reports on what I have to say on the blog site.

So let me take this opportunity to alert Cllr Logue to the fact that some of his senior officials need a well deserved 'boot up the backside' over all the unnecessary stress being caused to all the hard working NLC employees who are potential witnesses in this case.   

North Lanarkshire Update (24/03/16)

The recent tribunal hearing involving North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) seems to have made some real progress in resolving the outstanding 'First Wave' equal pay claims of Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants.

As regular readers know, the Council has been arguing for many months that these female dominated jobs are not of 'equal value' to the earnings enjoyed by traditional male jobs (e.g. refuse workers and gardeners) which have been chosen as 'comparators'.

But the Council seems to be backing away from that position and while a further Employment Tribunal hearing has been set for 27 April 2016 the Council now appears willing to negotiate a settlement on behalf of these claimants which would be a great victory for common sense.

Discussions will continue over the next few weeks and with a bit of luck the tribunal hearing  scheduled for April will not be necessary, although as the old saying goes 'until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed'.

So there's still a real possibility that these outstanding cases will end up back in front of an Employment Judge for an adjudicated decision.

In other words, fingers crossed and watch this space for more news.

NLC Update (10/03/16)

Regular readers in North Lanarkshire will be interested to know that a further hearing of 'First Wave' equal pay claims is taking place at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal next week.

Date - Tuesday 15th March
Time - 10 am
Venue - Eagle Building, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS

Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council will continue at this hearing to make the case that Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants jobs are not of equal value to traditional male jobs such as Gardener (2) and a council Refuse Collector.

Little wonder if you ask me that so many NLC workers are completely disillusioned at the way Scotland's fourth largest council is being run.

NLC Update (28/01/16)

The recent tribunal hearing involving A4ES and North Lanarkshire Council (on behalf of Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Workers and Classroom Assistants) did not resolve the various issues that are still in dispute.

However the Employment Judge did set dates for a full hearing in May 2016 which could last, potentially, up to ten days.

In the meantime the Council has been ordered to specify its defences to the claim that these female dominated jobs are not of 'equal value' to their male comparators. 

Sounds crazy, I know, North Lanarkshire is persisting with the argument that a Gardener 2 was rated and paid more highly than a Sheltered Housing Warden (SHW), quite properly according to Council bosses. 

Despite the fact that under NLC's 2006 job evaluation scheme (JES) the female SHW job was awarded new NLC Grade 6 while the male Gardener 2 was awarded the lower NLC Grade 5.

So how does that work? - I ask myself.

Because it seems to me, the higher graded female job (whose duties never changed by the way) cannot at any time have been worth less than the lower graded male job - unless we're all living in some kind of equal pay version of Alice in Wonderland.

Any sensible council would have settled these issues a long time ago and goodness knows A4ES has proposed settlement talks, but the Council leadership in North Lanarkshire has dug its heels in, not for the first time, which means that the ongoing fight for equal pay will remain a major issue in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016.

Because the review of NLC jobs (which was supposed to be completed by the end of 2015) is still outstanding and if this is not done quickly and satisfactorily, thousands of equal pay claims from Council Home Carers could end up back in the Employment Tribunals along with those from Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Workers and Classroom Assistants.

I'll have more to say on the subject soon, but it looks as though things are gearing up for a major new campaign in North Lanarkshire over the next few months.

So watch this space.

North Lanarkshire Update (21/01/16)

Tomorrow's tribunal hearing in Glasgow is about North Lanarkshire Council's stubborn refusal to accept that female dominated jobs (Sheltered Housing Warden, Clerical Worker and Classroom Assistant) are not of equal value to their chosen male comparators - a council Refuse Collector and Gardener (2).

I'm sure readers will be amazed, possibly even insulted, to learn that North Lanarkshire was arguing that a Sheltered Housing Warden (SHW), a job which clearly carries enormous responsibility, deserved to be graded and paid considerably less than a council Refuse Collector.

SHWs are now comparing themselves to a Gardener (2) because their jobs were raised from NLC Grade 3 to NLC Grade 6 under the Council's new job evaluation scheme (JES) back in 2006/07 - while the old Gardener (2) job was placed on NLC Grade 5.

So it seems like an open and shut case given that the tribunal has already ruled that the Wardens' duties did not changed, in which case how can a job on NLC Grade 6 not be of equal value to a council Gardener on the lower NLC Grade 5?

Seems like yet another terrible waste of taxpayers' money if you ask me, and from a supposedly cash-strapped Labour-run council which has been making a complete dog's dinner of equal pay for the past 10 years.  

Watch this space. 

God's Bakery

Some wag posted the following image on Twitter in the wake of the Ashers 'gay cake' case in which Appeal court judges decided that the Northern Ireland bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who shared their religious beliefs.

I've written about the Ashers case before on the blog site and so it's good to see the courts standing up for common sense.

 If you ask me, Ashers were trying to 'have their cake and eat it' at the same time.  



Image result for support gay marriage  cake + images

Ian Hislop surprised me on Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) recently because more often than not I agree with the editor of Private Eye who, by and large, speaks a lot of common sense.

But he went off the rails with some rather ill-judged comments about the Ashers bakery 'gay cake' row by inviting viewers to consider what would happen if someone went into a Muslim bakery and asked for a cake portraying an image of the Prophet Mohammed which would run counter to many Muslims religious beliefs.

Now this isn't really a good example of how the law on discrimination works at all because if someone sets up a business which is advertised as conforming to certain religious or other accepted norms, then they can't be expected to accept just any any request that a potential customer makes.

So a Halal restaurant could not be forced to serve a customer alcohol, nor could a Christian bookshop be expected to sell someone 'top shelf' magazines or works about the history of Judaism or Islam.

The difference in the Ashers bakery case is that they were not holding themselves out to be a religious business of any kind, probably because it's not always good idea to box yourself into such a small commercial corner depending on your target market, of course.

Instead Ashers were trying to 'have their cake and eat it" so to speak and they took the chap's order and accepted his money at the time, only to renege on baking the cake at a later date, possibly after communing with God.

So the answer is that if Ahsers want to wear their religious hearts on their sleeve and clarify their terms of business, they're free to do what they like so long as they don't say they refuse to serve Muslims, Jews and Catholics which would be against the law.

Otherwise the law is quite clear and applied with a bit of common sense there's no need for anyone to get their knickers in a terrible twist - including Private Eye and Ian Hislop. 

God's Bakery (20/05/16)

Image result for bert and ernie + images

God is apparently talking to the owners of a baking company in Northern Ireland which refused to complete a customer's order to make him a cake featuring the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie adorned with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage".

The Guardian reported on the case yesterday before the judgement of the court was known, but the judge came down firmly on the side of the customer by deciding that a business that exists to make a profit can't pick and choose the people it is prepared to serve.

Now I agree with that because the next thing you know, people with 'sincere' beliefs, religious or otherwise, will be demanding the right to refuse to provide a service to other citizens whom they dislike or object to for some reason.

For example, I'm not crazy about people with fundamentalist religious beliefs although that wouldn't stop me helping them if they had an issue with equal pay.

So, I'm looking forward to rewarding the court judgment and hearing the result of Friday's same sex marriage referendum in Ireland although the judge in the God's bakery case did say:

"This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”

Belfast high court to deliver verdict on Bert and Ernie 'gay cake' case
Ashers bakery, accused of discrimination after refusing to make cake with pro-gay marriage message, awaits judgment on declining business due to religious beliefs

The family which owns Ashers Baking Company: owner Colin McArthur, left, with wife Karen; and their son Daniel, the general manager, with his wife Amy and their children Robyn and Elia. The family is being supported by the Christian Institute in a landmark case after refusing to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage message. Photograph: Christian Institute/PA

By Henry McDonald - The Guardian

A landmark court judgment involving a pro-gay marriage message on a celebration cake will be delivered in Belfast on Tuesday, determining whether the devoutly religious have the right to refuse to deal with the LBGT community.

Evangelical Christians across the world have rallied to the cause of Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland, whose owners refused to bake the cake because of their opposition to gay marriage.

Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy will be in Belfast high court to hear the verdict. The family-owned firm is accused of discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation against Gareth Lee, a volunteer with the gay rights campaign group QueerSpace.

Lee asked Ashers, which is based in Belfast’s Royal Avenue, to bake the cake last year to mark the election of the first openly gay mayor in Northern Ireland, Andrew Muir. After the bakery reversed an earlier agreement to bake the cake, which was decorated with Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and a pro-gay marriage message, Lee reported the firm to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Before Tuesday’s ruling, McArthur, 25, defended the decision to decline the business on the grounds of the family’s Christian beliefs.

“Our faith is very important to us; it determines how we live, how we bring up our children, how we run our business, how we meet and how we engage with other people in society, so yes we can’t leave it out whenever we go to work in the morning.

“It’s been a difficult and exhausting time for us as a family but God has been faithful to us. And he has given us the strength to deal with this, and we know and trust in him that going forward he will continue to give us his strength,” he said.

During a three-day court hearing in March, Lee said Asher’s decision to hand back the £36.50 he had originally paid for the cake “made me feel I’m not worthy, a lesser person and to me that was wrong”. He is not expected to make any further statement after the judgement.

If the judge rules in favour of Lee, the controversy – which has profound implications for a conflicting set of rights: the right of the LGBT community not to be discriminated versus the right of Christians and people of other faiths to exercise their personal conscience in all walks of life including business – is set to continue.

The Democratic Unionist party, the largest political party in the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive, is proposing a local “freedom of conscience” bill, which would grant firms the right to refuse to accept business which they believe is counter to their religious convictions.

The DUP’s plans for such a bill will cause further turbulence in the Stormont assembly with Sinn Féin vowing to block any such law. Under the complex rules of the regional parliament, parties from either side of the sectarian divide can veto certain bills if they believe such legislation does not command cross-community support.

Moves to introduce gay marriage into Northern Ireland have in turn been blocked by the DUP and other unionists in the assembly. The region is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not recognised in law, a situation which is likely to be subject to legal challenge, with potential plaintiffs arguing that such a ban is contrary to the European convention on human rights.

Meanwhile, opponents of gay marriage in the Irish Republic have used the Ashers’ case in their campaign for a no vote in Friday’s referendum. Ireland is holding a national plebiscite to make gay marriage legal.

The no campaign has warned that if there is a yes vote this week, there will be a deluge of legal cases similar to Ashers’ including newly married gay couples suing clergy and ministers for refusing to marry them in churches and other religious places across the Republic.

Russian Diplomacy

Image result for russian embassy cartoon

International diplomacy is all about winning friends and influencing people on the world stage, yet the Russian embassy in London seemed to go 'off message' with this bizarre cartoon posted on Twitter depicting a big Russian bear showing off his muscles in front of some cowering piggies.

The symbolism is not explained, but the European 'pigs' are corralled in some kind of nasty prison or concentration camp which is decorated with a gay pride flag and mysterious stars on its external walls.

The following message accompanied the cartoon:

"If Russia is in decline, why worry? Maybe, real worry is West's decline and that we manage things better?"

Diplomats in other European states would be sacked immediately for posting this kind of childish nonsense though I suspect in Putin's Russia the culprit may well be in line for a big promotion. 


Putin's Russia (19/10/16)

Vladimir Putin calendar

Vladimir Putin has released his latest calendar which depicts the Russian president in a variety of action poses from riding a horse (thankfully not bareback this time) to flying a microlight aircraft, albeit one that appears to be still on the ground.

On one of his previous adventures President Putin managed to 'stumble across' some long lost treasure and the dutiful Russian media (mainly under state control) reported this bizarre incident as if it were true, were true rather than stage-managed by the president's minders. 

Still, I suppose it's an improvement on poisoning his enemies with radioactive polonium.


Russia's Strong Man (05/03/12)

So Vladimir Putin has won the election to become Russia's next President - in effectively a one-horse - the result of which was never really in any doubt.

The United Russia Party sold their candidate to the nation on the basis that Valdimir Putin represents the politics of change - but this is likely to have a hollow ring given that Putin has been a two-term President before. 

What it looks like to the outside world is that the great offices of the Russian state - can be bought and sold - passed back and forwards between favoured candidates at will.

In reality a continuation of the old brigade who will consolidate power in the hands of party apparatchiks - and leave the economy largely in the hands of Russian oligarchs.

So the move to the next phase of Russia's development is unlikely to take place under Vladimir Putin - the rapid economic growth of the last decade will be difficult to sustain.

The emerging Russian middle class is clearly becoming much more sophisticated - and is not taken in by the preposterous hard man images of their bare-chested President - and his famously stage managed events.

Such as the President's fantastic good luck - in stumbling over a horde of hidden treasure while out for a quick underwater scuba-dive - as you do.

To my mind the biggest problem facing Vladimir Putin - is that in many ways he represents the old Russia - he comes across as an old-fashioned politician -  a behind the scenes fixer.

Who then lurches to the opposite extreme - in trying to address this perceived shortcoming - by portraying himself as a Russian action man.

But while this worked for Vladimir Putin once upon a time it's highly unlikely to do so again.

Because future of Russia lies with the people demanding a more open society - and greater political freedoms including freedom of speech - which is clearly not the 'new' President's strong suit. 

Putin's Russia

The Guardian reports on the public inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a crime which could only have been committed by people with access to the kind of high-level, high-tech support that is normally the preserve of national Governments.

The main suspect in the case, Andrej Lugovoi, was taken under the protective wing of Vladimir Putin when he returned to Russia and quickly became an the equivalent of an MP in the Russian Duma (national Parliament) which means he cannot under any circumstances be extradited to the UK. 

So it will be interesting to see if Andrej Lugovoi and Dimitry Kovtun give evidence to the public inquiry by video link.

Litvinenko postmortem ‘most dangerous ever in western world’

Inquiry hears from lead pathologist who examined Russian’s body after his death from polonium-210 poisoning in 2006

The postmortem examination of the body of Alexander Litvinenko was “one of the most dangerous postmortems ever undertaken in the western world” because of the risk of radiative contamination, the inquiry into his death has been told.

Dr Nathaniel Cary, the lead pathologist who examined Litvinenko’s body following his death from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning in November 2006, said he and other officials examining the corpse had worn not one but two protective suits, two pairs of gloves taped at the wrists, and large, battery-operated plastic hoods into which filtered air was piped.

Along with a second pathologist, a police detective constable and a photographer, also wearing similar protective clothing, he was accompanied by an advisor from the institute of naval medicine and a radiation protection officer, who monitored any speckles of blood on the protective clothing, wiping them away and checking for traces of alpha radiation.

London ambulance staff observed the procedure from outside the room, said Cary, a consultant forensic pathologist, because “it would have been a disaster if anyone had fainted or had an acute medical problem” while examining the body. In contrast to standard postmortems, where there may be an option to carry out a second examination of the body, Cary said that “this was such a dangerous postmortem exam to carry out that you only really want to do it once if at all possible.”

Alexander Litvinenko’s son, Anatoly, on his father’s murder: ‘He was trying to make Russia a better place’

He added: “It has been described as one of the most dangerous postmortem examinations ever undertaken in the western world, and I think that’s probably right.”

Polonium-210 emits alpha radiation, he said, which unlike gamma radiation is not highly penetrative. However “the real danger is that it gets into your body, because [the alpha rays] go on emitting for quite a long time, which of course when it’s in your body it’s distributed around your body, and any cell next to where it’s distributed is badly affected by the continuous bombardment of alpha rays.”

He was not aware, he said, of any other case of polonium poisoning in the UK.

In the presence of Marina Litvinenko, the dead man’s widow, Cary said that after the Russian died on 23 November 2006, shortly after radioactive polonium poisoning was confirmed, the intensive care unit in which he had been treated at University College hospital in London was sealed, and the medical equipment left exactly as it had been at the moment of his death.

The Russian was initially admitted to Barnet and Chase Farm hospital in north London on 3 November, the inquiry heard, and was initially diagnosed with a gastrointestinal infection and treated with antibiotics. The inquiry has previously heard that detectives believe Litvinenko had consumed the poison two days earlier, on 1 November, after drinking tea that had been laced with the toxin.

Within days he had lost his hair and developed pancytopenia, which the pathologist described as “a loss of all the cellular elements in the circulating blood”. A bone marrow biopsy on 16 November showed bone marrow failure, after which he was transferred to the haematology unit at University College hospital in central London.

His liver and kidney function deteriorated, and on 22 November he suffered a cardio-respiratory arrest. The following day he died, following another similar arrest.

Recognising that the testimony might be distressing for Marina Litvinenko, the inquiry chairman, Sir Robert Owen, offered her the option of leaving the court. Her barrister, Ben Emmerson QC, said he had discussed the matter with her and “she wants to be present for all the evidence”.

Reading from his conclusions following the postmortem, Cary said: “From the findings it is apparent that Mr Litvinenko ingested a large quantity of polonium 210 on or around 1 November 2006, largely, if not wholly, by oral ingestion rather than by inhalation. The calculated amount absorbed was far in excess of known survivability limits.”

Separately, Sir Robert Owen, inquiry chairman, was told that Andrej Lugovoi, one of two men whose extradition is sought from Russia over the killing, spoke on Tuesday to Russian media to declare the inquiry a politically motivated “judicial farce” that had been revived by the British government in response to the Ukrainian crisis.

Speaking to an interviewer from Echo of Moscow, Ben Emmerson QC told the court, Lugovoi said: “I don’t have expectations, this is an old story.” The process had been suspended when the British Foreign Secretary and home secretary refused to disclose secret materials, he said, “but when the situation in Ukraine had kicked off and the UK’s geographical interests had likely begun to change they had decided to dust off the mothballs and commence these proceedings.

“Once the materials have been made secret, I said in 2013 that I would no longer participate in this judicial farce, that’s it.”

He was pressed for clarification by the interviewer and said: “What I mean is we want [the killing] to be investigated but we want the inquiry to be objective. Moreover we want the inquiry to take place in Russia.”

In response to the suggestion that the inquiry was politically motivated and had been put in place in response to the Ukraine conflict, Owen told the court that when he formally opened the inquiry on July 31 last year “there had been lengthy discussions as to my terms of reference which had preceded the situation as it evolved in the Ukraine. That is a matter of importance.”

In contrast to Lugovoi’s statement to another journalist that he had not been invited to take part in the inquiry, Emmerson said, the chairman had expressed the hope that both Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the other prime suspect, would give evidence by video link.

“I was careful to express the hope rather than the expectation,” noted Owen.

Putin's Russia (22/02/15)

Russia is nominally a democratic country, but while there are elections periodically other key features or a healthy democracy are missing, for example a free press and media, a viable opposition to hold government to account and the right to protest and criticise those who exercise power in the people's name.     

Worse still those who do actively criticise the Russian Government or its President, Vladimir Putin, tend to end up in prison or like Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya end up tend - in Politkovskaya's case being shot dead in her apartment block by assassins and in Litvinenko's being poisoned with radioactive polonium.

So I suppose Alexei Navalny can count himself lucky that he's been banged up in jail for only 15 days to prevent his attendance at an anti-Putin rally and you can bet your bottom dollar that this news from the BBC is not being reported on Russia Today.  

Putin critic Alexei Navalny given 15-day jail sentence

BBC News - Mr Navalny led Moscow street protests against President Putin between 2011 and 2012

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 15 days in prison for handing out leaflets to publicise a forthcoming demonstration.

His imprisonment bars him from taking part in the planned rally on 1 March.

Navalny was given a suspended sentence for defrauding two firms in December. He says the legal cases against him are motivated by his opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny left the courthouse on Thursday in a police car and wearing handcuffs.

He urged his followers to attend the rally against President Putin's policies.

The law he breached is one that restricts demonstrations.

Street protests

"To ease the economic and political crisis we have to pressure the authorities. Let's go to the anti-crisis rally," he said in a video posted on his Twitter account.
Alexei Navalny says that he is being persecuted because of his opposition to President Putin

Correspondents say that although he has little chance of posing a serious challenge to Mr Putin, he had pledged to lead 100,000 demonstrators in the march, which he says is against Kremlin policies that are leading Russia into a severe economic crisis.

Mr Navalny led Moscow street protests against President Putin between 2011 and 2012.

Last year he and his brother Oleg were accused of stealing 30m roubles ($462,000;£300,000) from two companies.

Oleg was given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence, while Navalny was given a suspended sentence that prosecutors say they will appeal against.

Critics of the Kremlin and the US say that his case is an attempt to stifle political dissent.

Since he was sentenced, Navalny has taken an increasingly defiant stance, cutting off his house arrest tag in January.
Alexei Navalny (left) and his brother Oleg were both found guilty in December