Residents of the Far East city of Khabarovsk have taken to the streets in daily rallies sparked by the arrest of their popular local governor, Sergey Furgal, with numbers swelling into the tens of thousands over recent weekends. Several thousand people marched again on Saturday for the 22nd straight day despite pouring rain, local media reported, amid signs their anger is evolving into broader demands for Putin to step down.

“Nobody spoke about Putin” at first, said Kristina, 35, a manager in Khabarovsk who’s taken part in the protests and declined to give her last name. “Now, it’s ‘freedom for Furgal and goodbye Putin.’ It gets bolder every Saturday.”

Despite concern in Moscow, the authorities have no plans to crush the demonstrations, two officials involved in the Kremlin’s efforts to defuse the situation said. The use of force against large numbers of people could provoke an even bigger political crisis, one of them said…

With the protests attracting up to 60,000 or more in a city of 600,000, the equivalent of 1.2 million in Moscow, “the authorities can’t round up one in 10 people,” said Natalya Zubarevich, head of regional studies at Moscow’s Independent Institute for Social Policy. “People across the country are watching with interest because Khabarovsk is an example of how to stand up for your rights.”