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11 Jul, 2020 11:50

Unprecedented rally in Far East Russia: large-scale protest after Khabarovsk governor is arrested for murder

Thousands of residents of Khabarovsk, the largest city in Russia’s Far East, took to the streets on Saturday to protest about the arrest of Sergey Furgal, the regional governor, earlier this week.

Furgal, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday, on suspicion of organizing the murder of two business rivals, and the attempted murder of another. The incidents occurred between 2004 and 2005 in Khabarovsk and its neighboring Amur region.

At around noon on Saturday, a large crowd gathered in the city’s central Lenin Square in support of the governor. Estimates suggest between 20,000 and 25,000 people took part, chanting “Freedom for Furgal!” and “Furgal is our choice!” Groups of protesters also chanted anti-Putin slogans and spoke of their right to choose their own leaders.

A turnout of 25,000 is a sizeable percentage of the city’s population of 600,000 – although the regional police department estimated the numbers to be significantly smaller, at between 10,000 and 12,000. Meanwhile, Furgal’s spokeswoman, Nadezhda Tomchenko, guessed at around 20,000. The Moscow daily newspaper Kommersant reported that up to 35,000 may have taken part.

Many in Khabarovsk believe that the murder charges faced by Furgal are selective and have only been brought due to his affiliation with the LDPR, which is in opposition to the ruling United Russia party.

According to social media reports, protesters demonstrated outside both the local police and administration buildings.

In an official press statement, the regional government said the demonstrators had “expressed their position,” but it asked them to avoid using violence and go home.

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“Neither the Khabarovsk Region, nor the Far East, nor the whole of Russia has ever seen such unanimity,” it said.

Following his arrest, Furgal was taken to Moscow to be remanded in custody for two months. He completely denies any guilt.

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