KHABAROVSK • Thousands of people braved the rain in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk yesterday to attend another huge protest march against the arrest of the region's popular governor.
For the fourth weekend, demonstrators marched through the streets chanting anti-Kremlin slogans and in support of former governor Sergei Furgal, who was arrested and taken to Moscow last month to face charges of masterminding murders 15 years ago.
The arrest of the 50-year-old - who was elected in 2018, beating a rival from the ruling United Russia party - has sparked unprecedented protests in the far eastern region.
Locals see the move as politically motivated and question why he is being tried in the faraway capital.
"To grab the governor like that, like the worst bandit... that's spitting into the faces of the citizens who elected him," Mr Stanislav Nasonov, 40, told Agence France-Presse at the rally.
Furgal, held in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison, has been fired, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has replaced him with a new young governor with no ties to the region, a move that has not gone down well in Khabarovsk.
Supporters of Furgal, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, feel he is being belatedly punished for defeating the United Russia candidate in the 2018 election.
The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
The rally yesterday was visibly smaller than that in the previous weekend, which was the largest over 22 days of near-daily protests.
Journalists estimated the turnout at around 30,000 people, while the Khabarovsk city hall put the number at just 3,500, claiming there was "falling interest".
Despite a downpour, spirits were high among the marchers, who clapped, waved signs and Russian flags and chanted "20 years - no trust" in reference to the amount of time Mr Putin has been in power.
"Our freedom of choice is being taken away," said pensioner Pyotr Smirnov, 65.
"We are protesting to open that window again, and not just for us but for the whole of Russia."
A protest involving several hundred people in support of Khabarovsk was also held in Vladivostok, where police detained several people, according to OVD-Info.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS