Tens of thousands of people in the far eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk have taken part in a protest march over the arrest of a popular regional governor on murder charges.
Following his detention earlier in July, Sergei Furgal was flown 3,800 miles to Moscow where he has been in jail for two months.
His supporters say his arrest is politically motivated and they see the serious charges as unsubstantiated.
They want him to stand trial at home instead of the Russian capital, in a challenge to the Kremlin amid discontent with Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Image: Tens of thousands of people attended the demonstration in Khabarovsk
This is the third weekend in a row where there have been protests by thousands in Khabarovsk, which is close to the border with China.
There have also been demonstrations on weekdays, though not as big, over the detention of Furgal, who was elected governor of the Khabarovsk region in 2018.
It is unusual for such large protests to be allowed in Russia’s regions and also for authorities not to try to break them up.
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Those protesting view Furgal’s arrest as Moscow disrespecting their choice of governor.
Protester Dmitry Kachalin said: “People are offended. I think people take to the streets because their vote in the 2018 election was taken away.”
Another demonstrator Anastasia Schegorina said: “We had enough. 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.”
Image: Sergei Furgal pictured during his arrest. Pic: Investigative Committee of Russia
At the march, protesters chanted “disgrace” and demanded President Putin resign because local people had lost trust in him.
On Monday, Mr Putin named federal politician Mikhail Degtyaryov as the new acting governor to head the region.
He is a member of the same nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) as Furgal.
But protesters said they felt insulted by the choice of Mr Degtyaryov, who has no connection with the region, and have called on him to step down too.
Image: It is unusual for such large protests to be allowed in Russia’s regions and also that authorities have not yet tried to break them up
Supporters of Furgal feel he is being punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party two years ago.
His 2018 victory was a humiliating setback for United Russia, which has also lost control over the regional legislature.
Authorities suspect he was involved in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005.
He has denied the charges, which date back to his time as a businessman with interests focusing on timber and metals.
Source : Sky News