Russians Protest Governor’s Arrest as Crackdown Deepens
(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of people marched through the streets of the Russian far east city of Khabarovsk, local media reported on Saturday, in a second week of protests over the arrest of the region’s popular governor, amid a deepening crackdown on opponents of President Vladimir Putin.
Demonstrators carried slogans demanding the release of Khabarovsk Governor Sergey Furgal, according to footage posted on social media. The independent Ekho Moskvy radio estimated about 20,000 people joined the unsanctioned protest, while the Khabarovsk mayor’s office said that up to 10,000 turned out in a website statement.
About 1,000 people also protested in the Far East city of Vladivostok chanting “We are with you Khabarovsk,” according to the local vl.ru news site.
Police detained Furgal earlier this month on allegations he organized several murders in 2004-2005, and flew him to Moscow. He denies the accusations. Furgal, from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, defeated the ruling party candidate in 2018 elections and won local support for his moves to limit officials’ privileges.
His detention has sparked unprecedented unrest in the city, adding to a rise in general dissatisfaction at Moscow’s rule in the remote far east and Putin’s long-term grip on power.
The governor’s prosecution comes amid a series of moves by security forces against opponents of Putin since he won a crushing endorsement of his right to extend his rule until 2036 in a constitutional vote July 1 that observers said was marred by irregularities.
“The hardliners are gaining more weight,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser who’s often critical of the authorities.
Police on Friday searched the office and home of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and barred him from leaving Moscow as part of their investigation into his alleged slander of a World War II veteran who publicly backed the constitutional changes.
Navalny didn’t campaign actively against the referendum on amending Russia’s constitution, focusing instead on regional elections due in September. He accused the authorities of using the case to prevent him from traveling around Russia in the run-up to the polls.
On July 15, police detained almost 150 people who gathered in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square to protest at the constitutional shake-up, which allows Putin, 67, to stand for two more six-year terms when his current mandate expires in 2024.
In power since 2000, Putin has seen his popularity slump to a record low amid a steep economic recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and a plunge in the price of oil, Russia’s main export earner.
Protests have also erupted over the prosecution of a prominent former military affairs journalist, Ivan Safronov, who was detained on treason charges this month after being accused of passing state secrets to Czech intelligence. Safronov denies the charges.
The security clampdown has also swept up supporters of self-exiled Putin critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former billionaire oligarch who funds civil society projects in Russia. Law enforcement officers have raided homes and offices of employees of Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation and MBK Media.
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