Tens of thousands of people have marched across the Russian city of Khabarovsk to protest against the arrest of the regional governor on murder charges, continuing a wave of demonstrations that has lasted two weeks in a challenge to the Kremlin.
Sergei Furgal has been in a Moscow jail since his arrest on July 9, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has named an acting successor.
Protesters in Khabarovsk, near the border with China, see the charges against Furgal as unsubstantiated and demand he goes on trial at home.
Unlike in Moscow where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned opposition protests, authorities have not interfered with the demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out over time.
But daily protests, peaking at weekends, have now gone on for two weeks, reflecting anger at what local residents see as Moscow’s disrespect of their choice of governor and simmering discontent with Mr Putin’s rule.
Authorities suspect Furgal of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005. He has denied the charges, which date back to his time as a businessman with interests focusing on timber and metals.
A politician on the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party ticket, Furgal won the 2018 election even though he had refrained from campaigning and even publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback to the main Kremlin party, United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature.
During his time in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor”, cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht that the previous administration had bought and offering new subsidies to the population.
Mikhail Degtyaryov, appointed by Mr Putin on Monday as Furgal’s successor, is also a member of the Liberal Democratic Party – a choice that was apparently intended to calm the local anger.
Mr Degtyaryov has refrained from facing the protesters and left the city on Saturday for an inspection trip across the region.