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Young people attracted by calls for civil unrest from opposition activists could be putting themselves in harm's way, say Russian officials, telling parents to get their kids to watch a movie instead.

The Ministry of Education in Moscow posted the stark warning to its page on the VKontakte social network on Thursday. Responsible for the protection of young people, the authorities noted that "in the last few days, calls for children to go on so-called 'marches' [on Saturday] have begun to appear in droves in various forums."

"We are all aware of children's curiosity, love of harmless pranks and showing off, but in the hands of unscrupulous adults, all this can involve a young person in illegal actions and drag them into a very bad situation," the officials said. "Be as vigilant as possible, take an interest in your children's plans and protect them from the dangers of these 'outings.' Spend the day together!"

Anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny, who was jailed last weekend after returning to Russia from Germany, had supported plans for wide-scale demonstrations in around 65 cities to protest his arrest. While it is not yet clear how many people might actually attend these gatherings, the Ministry claims there are activities far better suited to young people than political marches.

In a list of activities parents could consider doing with their children to avoid them falling off the radar and into trouble, the education chiefs suggest "watching your favorite movies, taking a walk in the park, sledding, playing board games and cooking together with the whole family."

Several of Navalny's allies have been arrested this week for allegedly planning illegal protests on Saturday. Prominent activists Lyubov Sobol and Kira Yarmysh, both of whom work at Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, were detained.

Police across the country have urged people to stay home rather than participate in the unauthorized gatherings. Mass events have been banned in many regions over public health concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Ekaterinburg, Russia's fourth most populous city, schoolchildren will be forced to attend an extra day of school online on Saturday, ensuring that they are studying rather than out protesting. Those that cannot dial in will have to present a note from a parent.

Navalny has been jailed for 30 days after allegedly breaching the terms of a three-and-a-half year sentence, suspended for five years, when he lost contact with prison service authorities last autumn. The Moscow protest leader was transferred to Berlin's Charite hospital in a comatose state after what his supporters say was a state-sponsored assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok. The Kremlin has ridiculed these claims, with President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, telling reporters that Navalny has a "persecution complex" and allegedly compares himself to Jesus.

Russian parents association boss asks government to ban TikTok over calls for children to protest

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© Getty Images via AFP / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Drew Angerer
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The head of Russia's Association of Parents' Committees and Communities has called on the government to ban TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing platform. Olga Letkova claims the app is being used to incite children to riot.

Her comments came after Russian state regulator Roskomnadzor demanded that the company stop distributing videos that encourage minors to participate in illegal protests. Supporters of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny are planning marches for Saturday, in order to demand his release from prison. One tactic being used to encourage participation is through short videos on social media.

Letkova told Russian online publication Snob that TikTok's tolerance of calls for children to go out and protest amounts to illegal "interference in our private lives."

"As parents, we cannot allow it to happen because it is dangerous for our children to participate," she said. "We will figure out for ourselves in our own country. We do not need instruction from abroad."

Letkova also spoke to the website Podyom, a Moscow-based news site. The association head asserted that foreign social networks are looking to "manipulate" Russian children, "just like in Ukraine and Belarus."

"If social networks give children instructions on how to behave, it is obvious that this is an attempt at a coup, conducted by the West," she said. "Yes, we have problems, but we will solve them ourselves. Don't tell our children to go out on the streets."

"On behalf of the Association of Parents' Committees and Communities, I am asking the authorities to ban TikTok and similar networks."

On Monday, after he was sentenced to 30 days in pre-trial detention, Navalny called for his followers to protest against his arraignment. In the days since, TikTok has been flooded with calls to engage in street protest. The Moscow government has refused to authorize the march, citing Covid-19 safety.