Sergei Furgal: Thousands march in Russian far east in support of popular governor detained in Moscow on murder charges

Unsanctioned protesters in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region: AP
Unsanctioned protesters in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region: AP

An estimated 10,000 people have marched through the Russian city of Khabarovsk for a second weekend running to demand the release of a popular regional governor after he was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Crowds gathered in the far east city in support of Sergei Furgal following his detention and transfer to Moscow for trial.

They say accusations against the one-time businessman – a member of the ultra-nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia – are both baseless and politically motivated.

Protestors believe the 50-year-old has been targeted because his popularity both here and further afield make him a potential threat to Vladimir Putin.

His arrest, officially on suspicion of several murders dating back 15 years, came less than two years after he swept to power in the region by trouncing an opponent from the president’s own United Russia party.

The victory came despite the fact that Mr Furgal was seen as nothing more than a technical candidate – someone essentially approved by the Kremlin to run in, and lose, an election.

Now, since his detainment, supporters have flooded onto the streets of this 500,000-person city some seven time zones to the east of the capital.

On Saturday, they carried banners and posters in support of their man while the police held back from making a single arrest, even though such protests are illegal in Russia without official approval.

One supporter, a middle-aged woman who gave her name only as Svetlana, told the Reuters news agency: “People came out here to defend their voting rights. We elected him, so return him to us.”

The Kremlin has denied the arrest was politically motivated, as has Sergei Kravchuk, the mayor of Khabarovsk and himself a member of Mr Putin’s party.

“I’m against the protests,” he told the BBC, “because they’re illegal.”

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