Khabarovsk (Russie) (AFP)
Thousands of people braved the rain on Saturday in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk to witness another large protest march against the arrest of the people’s governor of the region.
During a fourth weekend, protesters marched through the streets chanting anti-Kremlin slogans and in support of ex-governor Sergei Furgal, who was arrested and taken to Moscow last month to face charges directed murders 15 years ago.
The arrest of the 50-year-old – who was elected in 2018, defeating a rival of the majority United Russia party – has sparked unprecedented protests in the Far Eastern region.
Locals see this decision as politically motivated and wonder why he is on trial in the distant capital.
“Catching the governor like that, like the worst bandit… it spits in the faces of the citizens who elected him,” Stanislav Nasonov, 40, told AFP at the rally.
Furgal, held in the notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow, was fired and President Vladimir Putin replaced him with a new young governor unrelated to the region in a move that did not go well in Khabarovsk.
The protest movement against the government has been the largest outside Moscow for several years.
Saturday’s rally was noticeably smaller than the previous weekend, which was the largest in 22 days of near-daily protests.
Journalists estimated the turnout at around 30,000, while Khabarovsk City Hall estimated the number at only 3,500, saying there was “declining interest”.
Last week, the Kremlin said the protests were fueled by opposition activists from outside the region.
– ‘No trust’ –
Despite a downpour, morale was high among protesters on Saturday, who cheered, waved Russian signs and flags and chanted “20 years – no confidence” in reference to the time Vladimir Putin in power.
“Our freedom of choice is taken away from us,” said retiree Pyotr Smirnov, 65. “We are protesting to open this window again, and not just for us but for all of Russia. ”
Smaller protests also took place in several cities across the country, most of which resulted in arrests.
According to the OVD-Info group, which follows the arrests during rallies, 55 people were arrested during protests organized across Russia in favor of Khabarovsk.
In protests ranging from a few dozen to several hundred, 21 people were arrested in St. Petersburg, 13 in Moscow and five in Vladivostok, another major city in the Far East.
Investigators say Furgal organized the murders of several Far East businessmen in 2004 and 2005.
The Russian investigative committee, which is investigating major crimes, said last month it had “compelling evidence” of Furgal’s involvement.
The former doctor’s arrest on July 9 came just days after Putin – who has been in power for two decades – won a crushing ballot on constitutional reforms that could allow him to extend his rule until 2036 .
© 2020 AFP