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Navalny signals end to prison hunger strike after getting access to civilian doctors

A woman holds a “Free Navalny” sign during a protest in Tel Aviv on April 21, against Russia’s jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Oded Balilty/AP)

MOSCOW — Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is ending his hunger strike after 24 days, he said on Instagram on Friday, following the advice of his doctors, who warned he could soon die.

Navalny, who is serving a sentence of just over 2½ years, began his hunger strike as a demand to see independent medical specialists of his choosing at his expense.

After being moved to a prison hospital at a penal colony last weekend, Navalny was examined at a civilian hospital Tuesday. In a letter from five physicians affiliated with Navalny, published by Russia’s independent Mediazona news outlet, they urged him to consider that medical care as sufficient for ending the hunger strike.

Hunger strikes like Navalny’s are a Russian tradition dating to the czar’s prisons

“Thanks to the tremendous support of good people all over the country and all over the world, we have made tremendous progress,” said Navalny’s Instagram post. He does not have access to the account, but his lawyers are in regular contact with him, and posts are made by his allies.

“Two months ago, they only laughed at my requests for medical help and wouldn’t give me any medication,” the post continued. “A month ago, I was laughed in the face at phrases like, ‘Can I find out my diagnosis?” and ‘Can I see my own medical records?’ Thank you — now I’ve been examined twice by a panel of civilian doctors.”

Russia’s treatment of Navalny has drawn international condemnation, including from the United States, which promised “consequences” for the Kremlin if Navalny were to die in prison. His condition, described as being near death by his allies, prompted mass protests throughout Russia on Wednesday.

Protesters across Russia defy Putin with calls to free jailed opposition leader Navalny

Navalny said he is not withdrawing his demand for doctors of his choosing to treat him. His treatment Tuesday included consultations with a neurosurgeon, a neurologist and a nephrologist at a hospital in the Vladimir region.

On Friday, his personal doctors shared their analysis of Navalny’s test results with independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, calling for Navalny to be transferred to a “civilian multidisciplinary hospital” in Moscow. They said the high levels of potassium and low levels of sodium in his blood “may indicate a direct threat to life.”

Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent in August in what he and Western intelligence agencies say was an attempt on his life carried out by Russian state security agents. Although Navalny returned to Russia after a five-month recovery in Germany, there could be lingering effects on his health.

His attorneys previously said Navalny, 44, has two herniated discs that have caused extreme back pain and numbness in his leg and hands.

“I want to understand what it is and how to treat it,” he said. “But taking into account the progress and all the circumstances, I am beginning to get out of the hunger strike. The rules say it will take the same 24 days, and they say it’s even harder. So wish me luck.”