Moscow arrests popular governor, thousands protest against President Putin

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets shouting slogans against President Vladimir Putin after the regional governor of Khabarovsk, Sergei Furgal was detained on Thursday. He is accused of having ordered the killing of several business people 15 years ago.

Mr. Furgal defeated the candidate of Mr Putin’s United Russia party in elections two years ago. His party, the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democrat Party of Russia, is usually seen as loyal to the Kremlin. But his victory was seen as a blow to United Russia’s grip on power in the regions, and he is a popular figure in the far east.

At least 40,000 off the 600,000 people in Khabarovsk took part in demonstrations. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s regional office described the rally, which lasted nearly four hours, as “an absolute record for our region and a unique show of unity in society”.

Video footage showed protesters shouting slogans such as “Freedom!”, “Putin is a thief” and “Putin, resign”. Several other towns in the region held smaller protests. Police did not intervene or make any arrests

Mr Furgal was arrested by masked law enforcement officers on 9 July and brought to Moscow. A day later he was remanded in custody for two months ahead of his trial. He is accused of organising two murders and one attempted murder of businessmen in 2004-05, and could face life imprisonment.

The arrest comes amid fears of a crackdown on opposition following last week’s vote to approve constitutional reforms that will allow Mr Putin the option of seeking two more terms in office.

On Tuesday, Russian space agency official and former journalist Ivan Safranov was charged with treason, following accusations that he had passed official secrets to a Nato country.