Ailing Navalny cracks 'skeleton' jokes on Instagram

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny pictured in 2019
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

MOSCOW, April 20 (Reuters) - Three weeks into a hunger strike that threatens to kill him, Alexei Navalny made light of his skeletal state in a darkly humorous social media post on Tuesday, and said he was grateful for support from Russia and around the world.

The Russian opposition leader was transferred on Sunday to a prison hospital in Vladimir, east of Moscow, after starving himself since March 31 in protest at the refusal of authorities to grant him access to his own doctors.

In a post on Instagram, he told his supporters they would laugh if they could see him staggering round his cell and trying to swat mosquitoes with a rolled-up tube of paper.

"You'd laugh if you could see me now. A skeleton staggering round his cell," the 44-year-old said. "Now they really could use me to scare children who refuse to eat."

Navalny has been a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin for the past decade, wielding satire and humour to expose allegations of official corruption and building up a huge online following.

He maintained a stream of witty jibes against the Kremlin even while recovering last year from being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia.

His supporters say he has numbness in his arms and legs, sharp pain in his back and dangerously elevated potassium levels, putting him at risk of kidney failure and cardiac arrest.

"I laughed when I read quotes from the luminaries of medicine that with such a level of potassium as in my samples, I should either be in intensive care or in a coffin. Well, no, it's not that simple to get rid of me. After Novichok, potassium's not so terrible," Navalny said.

He did not refer directly to his allies' calls for mass protests across Russia on Wednesday, but said his spirits had been lifted by a fleeting visit from a lawyer on Monday who told him about the level of support for him in Russia and abroad.

"There are a lot of people like me who have nothing but a mug of water, hope and faith in their convictions," Navalny said. "It is extremely important for them to feel your support and solidarity... There is no better weapon against injustice and lawlessness."

Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson

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