Thousands in Russia’s Far East protest governor’s jailing

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of protesters gathered on Monday for a third straight day of massive rallies in Russia’s Far East against the jailing of a provincial governor accused of involvement in multiple murders.

Demonstrators in Khabarovsk on the border with China have rejected the charges against Governor Sergei Furgal as a sham and denounced the federal authorities.

The protests reflected widespread anger over the arrest of the popular governor and a simmering discontent with the Kremlin’s policies.

The 50-year-old Furgal was arrested in Khabarovsk last Thursday and was flown to Moscow, where a court ruled that he should be held behind bars for two months as the investigation continues.

The Investigative Committee, the nation’s main criminal investigation agency, said Furgal is accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005.

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.

Yuri Trutnev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for the Far East, who reportedly had a conflict with Furgal, visited Khabarovsk on Monday and met with regional officials. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Trutnev sought to downplay the controversy, noting Furgal’s popularity and emphasising that local residents have the right to express their support for him.

People hold posters reading ‘Freedom for Sergei Furgal and Hands off from Sergei Furgal!’ during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk on July 11. PHOTO: AP