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New protests in Russia's Far East after governor replaced

MOSCOW (AP) — Residents of the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk continued to protest the arrest of a popular regional governor on Tuesday, with several hundred taking to the streets in the evening demanding the departure of an acting governor appointed the day before.

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree dismissing Sergei Furgal, who had run the region since 2018 and was arrested on July 9, and appointing lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov as acting governor.

Authorities suspect Furgal of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005. He has denied the charges, which relate to his time as a businessman importing goods including timber and metals.

The arrest of Furgal, who had earned a reputation of “the people's governor” in the region, sparked continuous mass protests in Khabarovsk, with the two biggest attracting tens of thousands, as people grew increasingly frustrated with the Kremlin’s policy.

Footage of the protest on Tuesday showed large crowds of people gathering at the city center and marching down the city streets, chanting “Furgal is our choice,” “Degtyaryov, (go) home" and “Putin, retire.”

A member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Furgal was elected governor in 2018, defeating the Kremlin-backed incumbent. His victory was unexpected: Furgal didn’t actively campaign and toed the Kremlin’s line, publicly supporting his rival.

People voted for him nonetheless, delivering a humiliating blow to the main Kremlin party, United Russia, that has been losing seats in regional governments over the past two years. Degtyaryov, 39, is also a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. He has served as a lawmaker in Russia’s parliament since 2011. He is mostly known for controversial proposals, such as painting the red Kremlin walls white, banning the use of US dollars in Russia and barring gay people from donating blood.

Degtyaryov is already in Khabarovsk and on Tuesday urged the protesters not to “provoke the police." He will serve as acting governor until the next regional elections, scheduled for September 2021.

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