Thousands marched in the Russian far-eastern city of Khabarovsk yesterday for a fourth consecutive weekend in protest President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a local political crisis.
Residents of Khabarovsk, around 3,800 miles (6,110km) and seven time zones east of Moscow, are unhappy about the July 9 detention of Sergei Furgal, the wider region’s popular governor, 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 tackle a sharp drop in real incomes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and keep a lid on unrest as the economy stutters.
Sheltering from sporadic rain beneath umbrellas, protesters chanted “Freedom!”
One banner read “Russia without Putin” while protesters chanted “Putin resign!” outside a government building.
City authorities estimated around 3,500 people had taken part in the march.
Some local media put the number above 10,000, but said the crowds were smaller than previous weeks.
The protests have highlighted anger among some in the far-east over what they see as policies emanating from detached Moscow-based authorities who have neglected them for years.
“The government doesn’t think of us as people, we’re scum to them,” one female pensioner protester told Reuters. “We live at the edge of the world.
“This is the richest country ... but we live in poverty and we pensioners have to work.”
Supporters of Furgal, who is a member of the nationalist LDPR party, say that he is being punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party in 2018.
The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
Locals also 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 told AFP at the rally.
Furgal, held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison, has been fired, and 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.
Sustained demonstrations are unusual for Russia’s regions, as is a lack of response from the authorities to break them up.
The rally yesterday was visibly smaller than the previous weekend, which was the largest over 22 days of near daily protests.
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