Russia far east protest over Khabarovsk governor's arrest


Sergei Furgal during a court hearing on FridayImage copyright
AFP

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Sergei Furgal was remanded in custody on Friday

Thousands of people have taken part in protests in Russia’s far east over the arrest of a regional leader.

They marched to the regional government in Khabarovsk shouting slogans against President Vladimir Putin.

Khabarovsk governor Sergei Furgal was detained on Thursday, accused of having ordered the killing of several business people 15 years ago.

Mr Furgal defeated the candidate of Mr Putin’s United Russia party in elections two years ago.

His party, the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democrat Party of Russia, is usually seen as loyal to the Kremlin.

But correspondents say Mr Furgal’s victory was seen as a blow to United Russia’s grip on power in the regions, and he is a popular figure in the far east.

Estimates by regional media and opposition put the number of demonstrators at between 5,000 and 40,000, in a city of about 600,000 inhabitants.

In a tweet (in Russian), opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s regional office described the rally as “an absolute record for our region and a unique show of unity in society”.

Local media showed footage of demonstrators marching and shouting “freedom!”.

Some protesters shouted slogans such as “Putin is a thief” and “Putin, resign”.

Several other towns in the region held smaller protests. Police did not intervene or make any arrests.

Mr Furgal was arrested by masked law enforcement officers on 9 July and brought to Moscow. A day later he was remanded in custody for two months ahead of his trial.

He is accused of organising two murders and one attempted murder of businessmen in 2004-05, and could face life imprisonment.

The arrest comes amid fears of a crackdown on opposition following last week’s vote to approve constitutional reforms that will allow Mr Putin the option of seeking two more terms in office.

On Tuesday, Russian space agency official and former journalist Ivan Safranov was charged with treason, following accusations that he had passed official secrets to a Nato country.





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