MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired the governor of the Far Eastern region of Khabarovsk, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges, which sparked massive rallies in his support.
The Kremlin said on July 20 that Putin has appointed Mikhail Degtyaryov, who like Furgal is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia led by outspoken nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as acting governor of the Khabarovsk region.
Zhirinovsky said he accepted the move but added that his party will continue to insist that all charges against Furgal be dropped.
As the change was announced, hundreds of people marched across the city of Khabarovsk, the region's capital, demanding Furgal's release.
While marching through a heavy downpour, the protesters briefly stopped near the regional police headquarters and the regional radio and television corporation, demanding "full coverage of the protests and transparent and detailed information about the investigations of Furgal's case."
They also want any possible trial to be held in the region, and not Moscow.
The 50-year-old Furgal denies the charges, which his supporters say are politically motivated.
Furgal was elected governor of Khabarovsk, which borders China, two years ago in an upset for the longtime incumbent, who represented the ruling United Russia party.
Over the weekend police briefly detained two protesters in Khabarovsk and jailed for five days one protester in Vladivostok as thousands of people took part in protests in several cities in Russia's Far East to demand Furgal's release.
Organizers said a July 18 protest was attended by some 50,000 people in Khabarovsk, a city of only 600,000 people.
Furgal, who was arrested in Khabarovsk on July 9 and transferred to Moscow, is charged with attempted murder and ordering two murders in 2004-05.
On July 16, the Moscow City Court in a closed-door decision upheld Furgal's pretrial detention.
The continuing protests, far from the Russian capital, are a rare public show of defiance of the Kremlin and come following a controversial nationwide vote that set the stage for Putin to remain in power until 2036.
The authorities have been unnerved by the protests, with the regional capital's mayor calling for calm and saying such rallies were illegal and could spread the coronavirus.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has also warned of an alleged terrorist threat involving explosives, which it claimed to have already foiled.
In addition, authorities in the Khabarovsk region said they were considering a return to strict quarantine and attributed this to the "difficult situation with the spread of coronavirus infection."