Khabarovsk Krai Gov. Sergei Furgal smiled while standing in a detention cabin at Basmanny district court in Moscow on July 10. He was arrested a day earlier for allegedly organizing killings of some business partners in 2004-05. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE
July 18 (UPI) -- An estimated 50,000 people in Russia protested Saturday the arrest of a regional governor accused of murder.
The protests in Khabarovsk -- originally calling for the resignation of President Vladimir Putin and the release of Sergei Furgal, the governor of Khabarovsk Krai -- are now in their second week. Saturday's event marked the largest crowd yet, according to estimates from Russian news media.
Protesters chanted "freedom, freedom," The New York Times reported.
Furgal was arrested July 9 near his home in Khabarovsk city on suspicion of involvement in multiple murders in the early 2000s.
Law enforcement in camouflage put Furgal, 50, into the back of a black SUV, flew him more than 6,000 miles to Moscow and charged him with the murder of multiple business executives.
Furgal denies wrongdoing.
A member of the opposition group, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Furgal took office as governor after winning the 2018 election against Putin's ruling party, United Russia.
His arrest occurred less than two weeks after a referendum that gave Putin the ability to seek two more terms in office and possibly stay in power until 2036.
Demonstrators allege that Furgal's arrest is an attempt to suppress opposition to Putin.
Investigative Committee of Russia spokeswoman Svletlana Petrenko told Interfax news agency that the committee has witness accounts.
"At this stage, the investigation already has irrefutable evidence of Sergei Furgal's involvement in organizing the murders of entrepreneurs Yevgeny Zorya and Oleg Bulatov and an attempt to murder Alexander Smolsky," she said.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky questioned the timing of Furgal's arrest since the alleged murders took place in 2004 and 2005, according to Petrenko.
"If Furgal was supposedly involved in something, why did they wait 15 years?" he asked in a Twitter post.
Furgal's trial isn't expected until at least Sept. 9.
Protesters demanded that Furgal be tried in Khabarovsk instead of Moscow and said the case against him was politically motivated.
"Furgal became too popular," Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow and chairman of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, tweeted. "This is a reminder to others of how the Kremlin will fight political disobedience."