MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hundreds of residents of the far eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk protested on Tuesday against President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a regional political crisis that has sparked rare and sustained anti-Kremlin street protests.
In an apparent move to defuse tensions, Putin on Monday named a new acting governor to head the region of Khabarovsk from the same party as the popular previous regional leader, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges he denies.
Furgal’s July 9 detention has triggered more than a week of unrest from supporters who feel he is being belatedly punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party in 2018.
Others see it as the latest example of a detached federal centre located seven time zones to the west getting it wrong. The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
Putin appointed a member of Furgal’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), in his stead. [nL5N2ER37S]
But some locals said on Tuesday they were angry that the Russian leader had yet to speak publicly about the crisis and had appointed someone who was not from the region.
“The people will keep protesting until they get what they want,” a man called Vyacheslav said, when interviewed on a livestream organised by the daily Novaya Gazeta. Protesters are demanding Furgal be freed or flown home to face trial.
An elderly woman told an online TV channel run by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny that Putin’s appointment of a new acting governor was an insult.
“We didn’t vote for the LDPR,” she said. “But for a person (Furgal).”
Footage of the protest showed people chanting “Putin has lost our trust” and “Putin resign.”
The protests come three weeks after Russians voted to back reforms clearing the way for Putin to run for two more presidential terms after 2024.
The size of the protests – some have attracted over 10,000 people – is unusual for Russia’s regions, as is the fact that the authorities have not yet moved to break them up.
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