KHABAROVSK, Russia -- Hundreds of demonstrators have renewed their peaceful protest in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, demanding the release of the region’s governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last week on charges of attempted murder and ordering the killings of two businessmen in 2004-2005.
The fifth unsanctioned mass rally since last weekend was held on the central Lenin Square in front of the regional government’s building on July 14.
Two protesters joined the demonstrator’s with posters challenging President Vladimir Putin, saying "Putin-thief, Furgal-ours!"
The demonstrators called the two men "provocateurs," saying that their demands are about Furgal, not the president.
Police said they detained one of the anti-Putin poster-holders for "insulting the president."
From the square, the protesters marched across the city holding posters of support for the governor that said "I am/We are Sergei Furgal," and "Return Furgal back to us."
Others joined the march as it wound through the streets, with drivers honked their horns to express support for the demonstrators.
The protesters chanted "Free Furgal!" and demanded Khabarovsk Mayor Sergei Kravchuk, who publicly criticized the protests earlier in the day, to meet "for a fair talk."
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The protesters also demanded Furgal’s case be investigated locally and any possible trial be held in Khabarovsk, and not Moscow.
Tens of thousands gathered in support of Furgal in Khabarovsk over the weekend, a surprisingly strong showing given how far Khabarovsk is from the Russian capital and how the Kremlin has marginalized all political opposition in the country. .
The protests were also the largest in the country since a national vote that has set the stage for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036.
Smaller rallies were also held in the military industrial city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and other towns in the region.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on July 14 that the Kremlin "understands the emotions of Khabarovsk’s residents," but stressed that the accusations put forward against Furgal were "very serious."
"Everyone needs patience in this situation. Investigators must prove the accusations in court and only a court will decide if anyone is guilty or not in the case,’ Peskov said, warning that ongoing mass protests in Khabarovsk may cause a spike in coronavirus cases in the region.
On July 10, a Moscow court ordered Furgal to be held in pretrial detention for two months.
The 50-year-old member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) led by nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of businessman Aleksandr Smolsky and ordering the murders of two businessmen, Yevgeny Zorya and Oleg Bulatov in 2004-2005.
Furgal won a surprise victory over Kremlin favorite Vyacheslav Shport in 2018 in a major upset for the ruling United Russia party.