(Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in Russia’s far eastern city of Khabarovsk to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a regional political crisis and the suspected poisoning of his most vocal critic.
“Putin, have some tea,” protesters chanted as they marched on the city’s main thoroughfare, in a reference to the case of opposition politician Alexei Navalny who fell gravely ill this month after drinking a cup of tea at an airport cafe.
Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany last week after collapsing during a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. He is now in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital. [nL8N2FT2PE]
Residents of Khabarovsk, about 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, started holding weekly rallies after the July 9 detention of Sergei Furgal, the region’s popular governor, over murder charges he denies. [nL5N2ER37S]
His supporters say the detention is politically motivated. At the rally, they brandished posters denouncing “repression” and “dictatorship” and demanded that Furgal be released and allowed to return to the city.
Some also expressed solidarity with opponents of Belarusian leader and long-time Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko who have been staging public protests for weeks over vote-rigging accusations in the Aug.9 presidential election.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez