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People take part in a rally in support of arrested regional governor Sergei Furgal
Image: Reuters/E. Pereverzev
Politics

Russian far-east protesters rally against Vladimir Putin

July 25, 2020

Anti-government demonstrations have rocked Russia's far east over the arrest of a governor who was replaced by a Kremlin appointee who never lived in the region. Protesters demand a public trial for Sergei Furgal.

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Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday across the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk to protest the sudden arrest of the regional governor for the third Saturday in a row.

Sergei Furgal has been in custody in Moscow since his arrest on July 9 on murder charges. 

The popular governor is suspected of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005 when he himself was a businessman interested in the timber and metal industry. The 50-year-old has denied the charges.

Protesters feel the accusations against Furgal are unsubstantiated and demand a public trial in Khabarovsk, a city around 6,000  kilometers (3728 miles) east of Moscow, close to the Chinese border. 

Many protesters on Saturday chanted "Furgal is our choice!" and carried banners which read: "Governor of the People" and "Give us Furgal back!"

Putin's popularity dwindles 

Despite a ban on demonstrations, the ongoing wave of protests gained momentum Saturday as some 6,500 people took to the streets, according to authorities. Members of the opposition spoke of up to 100,000 protesters. 

Police have not yet interfered in the unauthorized protests in Khabarovsk. Attempts to discourage people from joining the marches by citing coronavirus risks have proven unsuccessful.

Read more: Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva found guilty of 'inciting terrorism'

Saturday's rally was also directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has already named an acting successor to the governor. The daily protests, climaxing at weekends, have gone on for two weeks, reflecting discontent against Putin and the Kremlin's interference in the far east. 

"People are offended," said Dmitry Kachalin, one of the protesters. "I think people take to the streets because their vote in the 2018 election was taken away."

On Monday, Putin officially fired Furgal and appointed a lawmaker from the same nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) party, Mikhail Degtyarev, as his acting replacement.

Read more: Opinion: Russia may get Vladimir Putin for life

Angry Khabarovsk residents say the 39-year-old outsider who had never lived in the region lacked experience. 

Leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny said that Putin and Russia state media continued to paint a picture of a "perfect world," while ignoring the protests. Navalny's staff released videos of Saturday's protests. 

The ex-governor had won the gubernatorial election against the candidate from Putin's United Russia party in 2018. 

"We had enough," said protester Anastasia Schegorina. "We elected the governor and we want to be heard and decide ourselves what to do with him. Bring him here, and a fair and open trial will decide whether to convict him or not," she added.

mvb/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

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