Thousands protest after Russia arrests Governor of eastern province for murder

The governor of a province in eastern Russia was arrested last week on murder charges. People living in the region see this as a power grab by Putin and have turned out in the streets in large numbers to protest. The protests featured chants of “Putin Step Down.”

Sergei Furgal, 50, was detained Thursday and has been ordered to remain in pre-trial custody for two months over the crimes 15 years ago.

The move triggered a mass demonstration on Saturday in the city of Khabarovsk that was joined by between 10,000 and 40,000 people, according to various estimates…

Saturday’s demonstrations — which saw protesters chanting anti-Putin slogans — were unprecedented for almost any Russian city outside Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The local government on Sunday denounced the “provocative slogans” and urged people to show “common sense,” noting that all gatherings were banned under coronavirus restrictions.

The Associated Press points out that Furgal’s election in 2018 was considered an embarrassment for United Russia, the party that backs Putin:

Furgal has denied the charges that date back to the period before he launched his political career when he was a businessman with interests ranging from imports of consumer goods to timber and metals

Before defeating a Kremlin-backed rival to win the governor’s seat in 2018, Furgal served as a federal lawmaker for a decade on the ticket of the Liberal-Democratic Party. Like the rest of his party, Furgal has never challenged federal government policy, but his unexpected victory in the gubernatorial election dealt a humiliating blow to the main Kremlin party, United Russia.

The NY Times points out that these protests couldn’t be discounted as easily by authorities so state media mostly ignored them.

Unlike streets protests in Moscow, which the authorities can easily discredit as the work of a privileged metropolitan elite led astray by Russia’s enemies in the West, the outburst of anger against Mr. Putin in a hardscrabble region nearly 4,000 miles east of the capital presented an unusual and potentially more troublesome challenge…

State-controlled media ignored the protests while giving extensive coverage to troubles in the United States, particularly a spike in coronavirus cases. The focus on America’s problems instead of Russia’s Far East led Dmitri Alekseyev, a wealthy businessman in Vladivostok, a city east of Khabarovsk, to comment on Facebook that “it seems I am living in the U.S.A.”

City authorities in Khabarovsk, the regional capital, tried to prevent the rally by sealing off the main square, claiming that it needed to be disinfected. But municipal police officers stood aside as crowds poured peacefully into the center of the city.

So it sounds like Putin has decided to clamp down on anyone that might oppose him and, despite the best efforts of local authorities and state media, he got more of a backlash than he bargained for. Here’s video of one of the protests.

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