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Russia frees anti-Kremlin protester after opposition outcry

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court unexpectedly freed a prominent student protester on Friday after handing him a three-year suspended jail sentence on extremism charges in a case that has caused outcry among the Kremlin's critics.

Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old student and politics blogger on YouTube, was among more than 1,000 people detained in Moscow on July 27 in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years. He and others had taken to the streets to call for free elections.

The court on Friday found him guilty of inciting extremism on his YouTube channel and banned him from using the Internet for two years.

But the court did not accept a demand from Russian prosecutors to jail Zhukov for four years and opted to give him a suspended sentence instead.

Zhukov, who was held under house arrest ahead of his sentencing, denied the allegations against him and said he had been caught up in a government crackdown on the opposition.

"This is all politics. They've turned the courts into a institute for repression. We must fight this, fight this through political means," Zhukov told supporters after leaving the court.

"The fact I'm here now is only thanks to you, this is your victory," Zhukov said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Zhukov's prosecution had rocked his university, the Higher School of Economics, angering students and some teachers. One of Russia's top universities, it is run by prominent economist Yaroslav Kuzminov, husband of Russia's central bank governor.

Prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny welcomed the news of Zhukov's suspended sentence, but said he should never have been prosecuted.

Russian courts issued three other rulings on Friday against people charged with assaulting police at anti-government protests this summer.

One was handed a one-year jail sentence, while the other two were freed after they were given a suspended two-year jail sentence and a 120,000 rouble ($1,880) fine, respectively.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood)

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