KHABAROVSK, Russia — Thousands of people have rallied in the central square of the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk to demand the release and return of the region's governor, Sergei Furgal.
Furgal is now in jail in Moscow on charges of attempted murder and ordering two contract killings some 15 years ago. Supporters say the charges are politically motivated. Furgal, who denies the allegations, defeated a pro-Kremlin candidate in an election nearly two years ago.
Demonstrators have rallied in the city of 600,000 people for more than two weeks. Their anger has grown to include calls for the resignation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On July 25, a crowd estimated at up to 50,000 turned out despite officials urging people to stay away due to concerns over the coronavirus.
On July 27, well-known rock musician Sergei Shnurov, who currently works as general producer at the RTVi television channel, joined the demonstrators, saying that he and his team were shooting a documentary about the protests.
The protesters met Shnurov with mixed reactions. Some took selfie photos with the celebrity, while others accused him of trying to assist the newly appointed acting governor of the region, Mikhail Degtyaryov, against whom the demonstrators have rallied.
A day earlier, Degtyaryov spoke to some of the protesters for the first time since his appointment to the post on July 20.
Degtyaryov is a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, as is Furgal, but he has never lived in Khabarovsk.
Also on July 27, the first participant in the ongoing pro-Furgal protests was fined.
The leader of the Libertarian Party's branch in Khabarovsk, Artyom Mozgov, told RFE/RL that the Central district court found him guilty of violating regulations on public gatherings and fined him 10,000 rubles ($140).
An anchor for opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's YouTube channel, Dmitry Nizovtsev, said on July 27 that police in Khabarovsk had launched a probe into his beating by unknown attackers last week.
Nizovtsev was attacked by three unknown men near his apartment on July 23 after he covered pro-Furgal rallies.
Such sustained demonstrations are unusual for Russia's regions, as is the fact that the authorities have not yet moved to break them up.
They follow on the heels of a controversial nationwide vote that set the stage for Putin to remain in power until 2036.
Khabarovsk region residents overwhelmingly voted for Furgal in the 2018 gubernatorial elections. His surprise victory was a blow to the ruling United Russia party.
Furgal, who was arrested in Khabarovsk city on July 9 and transferred to Moscow, is charged with attempted murder and ordering two murders in 2004-2005. He denies the allegations.