Navalny said he had gathered enough nominations to be a candidate in the March elections [Reuters]

Supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny have gathered in about 20 cities across Russia to formally get his name on the ballot for next year’s presidential elections.

Navalny has been banned from running in the vote in March due to a criminal conviction, but he still intends to announce his candidacy against President Vladimir Putin.

On a river beach on the outskirts of the capital, Moscow, nearly 750 supporters raised small red voting cards to endorse Navalny, who has long been the most visible opposition figure to Putin’s rule.

An independent candidate needs at least 500 people to formally nominate them and initiate a presidential bid.

“It’s you, Vladimir Putin, who turned this country into a source of personal enrichment for yourself, your family and your friends. It’s why you shouldn’t be president anymore, it’s why you’re a bad president”, Navalny told the gathered crowd.

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“You don’t know how to rule a country and we defy you in these elections and we are set to win.”

Thousands of Navalny supporters also gathered in cities across Russia – from St Petersburg to Vladivostok – to show their support for the opposition leader.

However, chances of the 41-year old being officially registered as a candidate by the central election commission are slim as he is banned from running because of a conviction for fraud.

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In a retrial of a 2013 case, a court in the city of Kirov handed down in February a five-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of about $8,500 to Navalny for embezzling timber worth about $500,000. Navalny has always maintained that the conviction was politically motivated. 

“It’s unlikely still that the Kremlin is going to allow him to run,” Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said.

“And it’s unlikely he would ever actual beat Putin in a head-to-head race, but he is still a political threat to the Russian system.”

Anti-corruption rallies

A staunch Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner, Navalny rose to prominence in Russian politics in 2008.

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He started blogging about alleged corruption at some of Russia’s large, state-controlled corporations, using social media to reach out to predominantly young followers.

Navalny was the driving force behind massive anti-Putin protests in 2011 and 2012, rallying tens of thousands of people across the country.

The Russian president announced earlier this month he plans to run for another six-year term.

Putin, 65, was president from 1999 until 2008. He then served as prime minister from 2008 until 2012, before becoming president again.

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