Demonstrations in Khabarovsk are part of a three-week wave of opposition challenging the Kremlin.

People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on murder charges in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia, August 1, 2020.
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on murder charges in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia, August 1, 2020. (Evgenii Pereverzev / Reuters)

Thousands of people have braved the rain in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk to attend another huge protest march against the arrest of the region's popular governor.

This continues a three-week wave of opposition challenging the Kremlin.

Governor of Khabarovsk Krai, Sergei Furgal, has been in a Moscow jail since his July 9 arrest on charges of involvement in murders that occurred before his political career started. 

Furgal has denied the charges.

Claims arrest politically motivated

Protesters in Khabarovsk see the charges against him as unsubstantiated and are demanding that his trial take place in his home city, 6,100 kilometres (3,800 miles) east of the Russian capital.

They see the move as politically motivated and question why he is being tried in the far-away capital.

"To grab the governor like that, like the worst bandit... that's spitting into the faces of the citizens who elected him," 40-year-old Stanislav Nasonov said.

His supporters have held daily protests, with the largest turnouts on weekends. The latest demonstration attracted about 10,000 people, according to some news reports. But police say the crowd was about 3,500.

READ MORE: Massive anti-Kremlin protests grip Russia's Far East

Unlike in Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned opposition protests, authorities haven’t interfered with the unauthorised demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out.

Authorities suspect Furgal of involvement in the slayings of several businessmen in 2004 and 2005, when he was a businessman with interests focusing on timber and metals.

A lawmaker on the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party ticket, Furgal won the 2018 regional gubernatorial election, even though he had refrained from campaigning and publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.

Furgal's win

His victory was a humiliating setback to the main Kremlin party, United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature. During his time in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor,” cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht that the previous administration had bought and offering new benefits to residents.

Furgal, held in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison, has been fired, and President Vladimir Putin has replaced him with a new young governor with no ties to the region in a move that has not gone down well in Khabarovsk.

Mikhail Degtyaryov is a federal lawmaker who is also a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.

"Our freedom of choice is being taken away," said pensioner Pyotr Smirnov, 65. "We are protesting to open that window again, and not just for us but for the whole of Russia."

READ MORE: Anti-Kremlin protests continue in Russia's Far East

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies