Mass protests rock city in Russia’s far east after governor’s arrest

Mass protests rock city in Russia's far east after governor's arrest

Mass rallies rocked the city of Khabarovsk, in the far east of Russia, on Saturday, as tens of thousands took to the streets in protest against the arrest of the region's governor on charges of alleged involvement in multiple murders.

Local media estimated the rally in the city 3,800 miles east of Moscow drew 15,000 to 50,000 people.

Hundreds have rallied in the city centre every day this week against the arrest of Sergei Furgal, reflecting widespread anger over the arrest of the popular governor and a simmering discontent with the Kremlin's policies.

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Protests in Khabarovsk
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Protests in Khabarovsk
People march during a protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Tens of thousands of people in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk took to the streets on Saturday, protesting the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. Local media estimated the rally in the city attracted from 15,000 to 50,000 people. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People hold posters reading "Freedom for Khabarovsk region's governor Sergei Furgal, I'm, we are Sergei Furgal, Call Furgal home" during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Tens of thousands of people in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk took to the streets on Saturday, protesting the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. Local media estimated the rally in the city attracted from 15,000 to 50,000 people. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People hold posters reading "Freedom for Sergei Furgal, I am, we are Sergei Furgal," "Give us Furgal back", "Call Furgal home" during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Tens of thousands of people in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk took to the streets on Saturday, protesting the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. Local media estimated the rally in the city attracted from 15,000 to 50,000 people. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People march during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Tens of thousands of people in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk took to the streets on Saturday, protesting the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. Local media estimated the rally in the city attracted from 15,000 to 50,000 people. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People hold posters reading "Freedom for Khabarovsk region's governor Sergei Furgal" during an unsanctioned protest in support of Furgal, who was interrogated ordered held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk, 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Thousands of demonstrators in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk gather to protest against the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
A man holds a poster reading "Our region, our governor!" during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, who was interrogated ordered held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, in Russia, Monday, July 13, 2020. Thousands of protesters gathered Monday for a third straight day of massive protests in Russia's far east against the jailing of a provincial governor accused of involvement in multiple murders. Demonstrators in Khabarovsk on the border with China have rejected the charges against Gov. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People hold posters reading "Freedom for Sergei Furgal and Hands off from Sergei Furgal!" during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, who was interrogated ordered held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 11, 2020. Thousands of demonstrators in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk held a protest against the arrest of the region's governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders. Local news media gave estimates of the crowd ranging from 5,000 to 35,000. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
People holding posters reading "freedom for Sergei Furgal" gather to attend an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, who was interrogated ordered held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, in Russia, Monday, July 13, 2020. Thousands of protesters gathered Monday for a third straight day of massive protests in Russia's far east against the jailing of a provincial governor accused of involvement in multiple murders. Demonstrators in Khabarovsk on the border with China have rejected the charges against Gov. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
A governor of the Khabarovsk region along the border with China, Sergei Furgal is escorted from a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 10, 2020. A provincial governor in Russia's far east has been arrested on charges of involvement in multiple murders and was flown to Moscow. The court ordered Frugal to be jailed for two months as the investigation continues. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A governor of the Khabarovsk region along the border with China, Sergei Furgal, center, stands prior to a session in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 10, 2020. A provincial governor in Russia's far east has been arrested on charges of involvement in multiple murders and was flown to Moscow. The court ordered Frugal to be jailed for two months as the investigation continues. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
KHABAROVSK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens hold a placard reading "I Am/We Are Sergei Furgal - Khabarovsk Stands Up for Its People" during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Dmitry Morgulis/TASS (Photo by Dmitry Morgulis\TASS via Getty Images)
People chant slogans and carry a portrait of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region who was arrested a weeke ago, during an unauthorised rally in his support in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 18, 2020. - Tens of thousands of people rallied on July 18 in Khabarovsk in new protests in support of a popular governor and in a rare show of defiance against the Kremlin. Sergei Furgal was arrested last week on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago. (Photo by Aleksandr Yanyshev / AFP) (Photo by ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP via Getty Images)
People hold a banner reading "Freedom for Furgal!", during an unauthorised rally in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region who was arrested a week ago, in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 18, 2020. - Tens of thousands of people rallied on July 18 in Khabarovsk in new protests in support of a popular governor and in a rare show of defiance against the Kremlin. Sergei Furgal was arrested last week on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago. (Photo by Aleksandr Yanyshev / AFP) (Photo by ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman carries a placard reading "Freedom for Furgal!", during an unauthorised rally in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region who was arrested a week ago, in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 18, 2020. - Tens of thousands of people rallied on July 18 in Khabarovsk in new protests in support of a popular governor and in a rare show of defiance against the Kremlin. Sergei Furgal was arrested last week on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago. (Photo by Aleksandr Yanyshev / AFP) (Photo by ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP via Getty Images)
People carry a portrait of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, during an unauthorised rally in his support in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 18, 2020. - Tens of thousands of people rallied on July 18 in Khabarovsk in new protests in support of a popular governor and in a rare show of defiance against the Kremlin. Sergei Furgal was arrested last week on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago. (Photo by Aleksandr YANYSHEV / AFP) (Photo by ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens gather in central Vladivostok for a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: A man holds a placard reading "I Am/We Are the Far East", seated at the monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: A man with a placard reading "I Am/We Are Sergei Furgal" stands at the monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens gather at the monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power for a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens hold placards reading "We Are For Khabarovsk" and "I Am/We Are the Far East" during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens gather at the monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power for a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: A woman holds reading "Furgal" during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens hold a placard reading "I Am/We Are the Far East" during a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - JULY 18, 2020: Citizens hold a rally in support of Khabarovsk Territory Governor Furgal recently taken into police custody over allegations of involvement in murders. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
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Mr Furgal, the Khabarovsk region governor, was arrested on July 9 and flown to Moscow where he was put in jail for two months.

Russia's Investigative Committee says he is suspected of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005.

Russia Protest
Sergei Furgal was elected governor in 2018, defeating the Kremlin-backed incumben (Igor Volkov/AP)

Mr Furgal has denied the charges, which relate to his time as a businessman with interests ranging from imports of consumer goods to timber and metals.

Khabarovsk residents dismissed the charges against him as unsubstantiated and denounced the Kremlin for targeting a governor they elected.

"It's not only about this (whether Furgal arrest is legal or not). People are fed up with the way we are treated, that they (authorities) can simply take away our choice," Mikhail Yerashchenko, one of the protesters, said on Saturday.

A member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Mr Furgal was elected governor in 2018, defeating the Kremlin-backed incumbent.

His victory was unexpected as he did not actively campaign and toed the Kremlin's line, publicly supporting his rival.

Russia Protest
Protesters demanded that his trial be moved to Khabarovsk (Igor Volkov/AP)

People voted for him nonetheless, delivering a humiliating blow to the main Kremlin party, United Russia, that has been losing seats in regional administrations over the past two years.

During his two years in office, Furgal earned a reputation of "the people's governor".

He cut his own salary, ordered the sale of an expensive yacht the previous administration bought, met protesters when rallies took place and significantly reduced flight fares for residents in remote areas.

Last Saturday, crowds of reportedly up to 35,000 people rallied in the city centre. Protesters demanded that his trial be moved to Khabarovsk, with one of them saying "we have elected him, and it's up to us to judge him".

The protests, unauthorised by authorities, are the largest ever to have taken place in Khabarovsk, a city of 590,000.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the situation "not standard" this week. Moscow has not yet appointed an acting governor 11 days after Mr Furgal's arrest.

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