© Reuters. People take part in a rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal in Khabarovsk
KHABAROVSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday for the fourth weekend in a row, protesting at President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a local political crisis.
Residents of Khabarovsk, around 3,800 miles (6,110 km) and seven time zones east of Moscow, are unhappy about the July 9 detention of the wider region’s popular regional governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges he denies.
His detention, which his supporters say was politically motivated, has triggered weeks of street protests, creating a headache for the Kremlin which is trying to troubleshoot a sharp COVID-19-induced drop in real incomes and keep a lid on unrest as the economy stutters.
Sheltering from sporadic and heavy rain beneath umbrellas, protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “We came here of our own will.”
One banner read “Russia without Putin” and protesters chanted “Putin resign!”
Many held up placards in solidarity with the arrested governor, reading “I am/We are Sergei Furgal”. Some marchers wore face masks with the same slogan.
City authorities estimated around 3,500 people had taken part. Some local media put the number at around 10,000 or higher, but said the crowds were smaller than one week ago.
The protests have highlighted anger among some in the far east over what they see as policies emanating from detached Moscow-based authorities on the other side of the country.
Supporters of Furgal, the arrested governor and a member of the nationalist LDPR party, feel he is being belatedly punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party in 2018. The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
Such sustained demonstrations are unusual for Russia’s regions, as is the fact that the authorities have not yet moved to break them up.
Putin has named a new acting governor, but protesters say he has no connection with the region and have called on him to step down too.
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