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MOSCOW, July 13 — A Kremlin envoy today sought to de-escalate a political crisis as protests against the arrest of a popular governor in far eastern Russia entered a fourth day.
At the weekend, tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Khabarovsk some 6,100 kilometres east of Moscow to protest the arrest of regional governor Sergei Furgal in a murder probe.
Furgal was detained last week, flown to Moscow and is to be held in custody until early September on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago.
Large protests were held over the weekend in Khabarovsk and nearby towns, in what observers said were the first such rallies there in recent decades.
The protests come after President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for two decades, this month oversaw a constitutional vote that allows him to extend his hold on power until 2036.
Furgal, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, won the governor’s seat from a representative of the ruling party in 2018.
Today, rallies resumed in Khabarovsk, which is seven hours ahead of Moscow, though on a smaller scale, local activists said.
Putin’s far eastern envoy, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, reportedly flew in at the weekend.
He said today that “people have the right to express their opinion,” state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Trutnev did not appear to meet protesters, however.
“Sergei Ivanovich was and is supported by a large number of people,” he acknowledged in reference to the governor.
At the same time Trutnev blamed local officials for what he called the region’s poor investment climate and other issues.
“I believe that work of the Khabarovsk regional leadership has been poorly organised,” he said.
In a new protest today a crowd of protesters gathered outside the regional administration offices, with video footage of the demonstration released by supporters of leading opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Activists estimated the turnout at around 300 people.
“Furgal is our choice!” protesters chanted, some pumping their fists in the air, at the fourth demonstration since the governor’s arrest.
LDPR party leader, veteran firebrand politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has backed Furgal and accused the ruling party of using “Stalin-era methods.”
Writing on Telegram today, Zhirinovsky said Furgal was one of Russia’s five most popular regional chiefs. — AFP
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