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Fourth week of anti-Kremlin protests in Russia's far-east

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Residents of Khabarovsk near the border with China have taken to the streets en masse since the head of their region Sergei Furgal was arrested by federal law enforcement .
Residents of Khabarovsk near the border with China have taken to the streets en masse since the head of their region Sergei Furgal was arrested by federal law enforcement .   -   Copyright  Igor Volkov/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
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Thousands of protesters took to Russia's eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday for a fourth consecutive weekend, up in arms over what they call a politically motivated arrest of the region's popular governor.

Protests are rare in Khabarovsk, which is around 3,800 miles (6,110 km) and seven time zones east of Moscow.

Demonstrations started after governor Sergei Furgal was arrested on July 9 on murder charges, which he denies. Furgal has also been fired and replaced.

His supporters see the probe as aimed at removing an overly independent politician, elected in 2018 after standing against an incumbent from the ruling party backing President Vladimir Putin.

ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP or licensors
Protesters held banners reading 'freedom for Sergei Frugal'ALEKSANDR YANYSHEV/AFP or licensors

"To grab the governor like that, like the worst bandit... that's spitting into the faces of the citizens who elected him," 40-year-old Stanislav Nasonov told AFP at the rally.

Protests also broke out in St Petersburg on Saturday in support of the region.

Who is Sergei Furgal?

The 50-year-old former business man was elected in 2018 after defeating a candidate from the ruling party backing President Vladimir Putin.

He is a member of the nationalist party LDPR which is generally loyal to the Kremlin.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
Frugal was arrested and flown to Moscow, where he is in police custody.Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

His supporters describe him as energetic and ready to listen.

Locally, his level of popularity rivalled Putin's.

Investigators accuse Furgal of ordering two contract killings and an attempted murder 15 years ago.

He is currently being held in custody in Moscow.

Why are Russians protesting?

Added to the dismay at Furgal's arrest, resentment has also stirred in the region as it feels largely ignored by Moscow.

"After we elected Furgal, the capital of the Far Eastern Federal District was moved from here to Vladivostok," said 22-year-old Victoria Sakharova, a sales assistant, referring to the port city on the Pacific coast.

"This was clearly because we elected an opposition candidate."

Dmitri Lovetsky/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
The region says it feels ignored by Moscow.Dmitri Lovetsky/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

The region, which borders China and is dependent on metallurgy, coal mining and forestry for employment, is also burdened by economic worries.

What has Moscow done to appease the protests?

Moscow appointed a new acting governor from Furgal's LDPR party, Mikhail Degtyarev, after the arrest.

But the 39-year-old MP, known for proposing wacky bills, has faced a chilly reception.

He said he did not have time to meet the demonstrators and alleged they received backing from foreign "provocateurs".