KHABAROVSK, Russia (AP) – Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday across the Russian city of Khabarovsk on the border with China to protest the arrest of the regional governor on murder charges, continuing a wave of protests that has lasted for two weeks in a challenge to the Kremlin.
Sergei Furgal has been in a Moscow jail since his arrest on July 9, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has named an acting successor. Protesters in Khabarovsk see the charges against Furgal as unsubstantiated and demand that he stand trial at home.
Unlike Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned opposition protests, authorities havenâ€™t interfered with unauthorized demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out over time.
But daily protests, peaking at weekends, have gone on for two weeks, reflecting anger against what local residents see as Moscowâ€™s disrespect of their choice and simmering discontent with Putinâ€™s rule.
Authorities suspect Furgal of involvement 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.
A lawmaker on the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party ticket, Furgal won the 2018 gubernatorial election even though he had refrained from campaigning and even publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback to the main Kremlin party, United Russia, which also has lost its control over the regional legislature. During his time in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a â€œpeople’s governor,â€ cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht that the previous administration had bought and offering new subsidies to the population.
Mikhail Degtyaryov, a federal lawmaker whom Putin named Monday to succeed Furgal, is also a member of the Liberal-Democratic Party – a choice that was apparently intended to assuage the local residents’ anger. If that was the plan, it hasn’t worked.
Degtyaryov has refrained from facing the protesters and left the city on Saturday for an inspection trip across the region.