|People march during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia's Far East. - Evgenii Pereverzev/Reuters|
Tens of thousands gathered Saturday to protest the arrest of a regional Russian governor in an eighth consecutive day of anti-Putin unrest.
Sergei Furgal, governor of the Khabarovsk region, was arrested July 9 for allegedly helping plot the murders of two businessmen and the attempted murder of a third 15 years ago — charges that protestors believe are politically motivated. Frugal beat a Putin-backed candidate for the governorship in 2018.
The protests come after a referendum earlier this month allowing Putin to stay in power for up to 16 more years.
The demonstrations have morphed into a rallying cry against the constitutional change, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“My attitude to Putin is extremely negative,” demonstrator Mikhail Potapenkov, 27, an IT systems administrator, told the Journal. “He seized power [by changing the constitution] and because of this the country can’t develop. Without a constant change of power, there can be no development.”
Residents of the region in Russia’s far east, near the China border, also are angered by rising unemployment and poverty. In the first three months of this year, the average income of local workers was nearly half that of Moscow workers.
“Of course, we are very worried about the fate of [Furgal], we really like him,” protestor Maria Sushkova, 27, told the Journal. But the protests have “become for the most part an occasion for a surge of discontent among citizens.”
In an interview with the Journal, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any political motive for Furgal’s arrest.
“The investigation claims they have irrefutable evidence,” Peskov said. “Therefore, there is no [political] policy here. There is simply a very serious accusation.”
Furgal is accused of planning the killings of Yevgeny Zorya and Oleg Bulatov, and the attempted murder of Alexander Smolsky, in 2004 and 2005 during a dispute over a reinforced-concrete plant that Furgal and Zorya had competing interests in.
The murders were motivated by “Furgal and accomplices promoting their own commercial interests,” Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman of the Russian Investigative Committee, told the Interfax news agency.
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