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Thousands join weekend of anti-government protests in eastern Russia

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"Freedom for Sergei Furgal" and "Putin to Resign!" seen on posters during an unsanctioned protest on Sunday to support Sergei Furgal, Khabarovsk governor
"Freedom for Sergei Furgal" and "Putin to Resign!" seen on posters during an unsanctioned protest on Sunday to support Sergei Furgal, Khabarovsk governor   -   Copyright  Igor Volkov/AP
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Thousands of demonstrators in Russia's far eastern city of Khabarovsk took part in a weekend of protests against the arrest of the region's governor.

Sergei Furgal was arrested on Thursday and flown to Moscow to face charges of involvement in multiple murders.

But protesters in the city, which is 6,100 kilometres east of Moscow, say the allegations are politically motivated.

Some held placards calling on President Vladimir Putin to resign. One carried the slogan "Down with the Tsar".

Thousands of people took part in the demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, both in Khabarovsk and in other cities around the region.

Furgal is a member of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and was unexpectedly elected governor of the Khabarovsk region in 2018, in a setback for Putin's United Russia party.

He remains popular in the region for measures that appeared to cut government waste, including reducing his own salary and banning his officials from flying in business class seats.

Russia's main criminal investigation body said Furgal was suspected of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005 before his political career began.

After he was questioned in Moscow last week, officials ordered the governor be held in custody for two months.

The detention of Furgal is one of a number of high-profile arrests in Russia since a referendum last month that paved the way for Putin to remain in office until 2036.

Last week ex-journalist Ivan Safronov was arrested on suspicion of passing state secrets to the Czech Republic, a NATO country. He denies the allegations.