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Crackdown: A protester supporting Ivan Safronov, an ex-journalist accused of treason, is arrested in Moscow yesterday. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Crackdown: A protester supporting Ivan Safronov, an ex-journalist accused of treason, is arrested in Moscow yesterday. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

AP

Crackdown: A protester supporting Ivan Safronov, an ex-journalist accused of treason, is arrested in Moscow yesterday. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Tens of thousands of people joined anti-Putin protests over the weekend and yesterday in Russia's far east region after the arrest of a popular local opposition politician.

Khabarovsk, a city of 600,000 on the border with China and seven time zones away from Moscow, erupted in protest on Saturday after the arrest of Sergei Furgal, the opposition governor.

An estimated 30,000 people took to the streets in what has been described as the largest rally in the city's history.

Protests persisted on Sunday and yesterday when hundreds of angry residents came out in defiance of an explicit ban on public gatherings.

Last week's arrest of Mr Furgal, who was filmed being manhandled roughly and handcuffed by FSB secret agents in broad daylight and flown to Moscow for questioning, has rattled Khabarovsk, which overwhelmingly voted for the opposition politician in 2018.

With Mr Furgal's win "people felt there was a chance for change, and it's all been destroyed", Alexei Vorsin, a local activist aligned with opposition politician Alexei Navalny, said yesterday.

Alexei Izotov, a Khabarovsk businessman who is moving to western Russia this autumn, said the protests are channelling long-harboured frustrations with Moscow.

"The region is in disarray," he said.

"Everything that's being said on TV about development and big projects is just fiction. People in the region feel both geographically and financially cut off from the rest of Russia."

Mr Furgal's prosecution on charges of organising two contract killings 15 years ago has been widely seen as a payback for his landslide win as well as his apparent unwillingness to rig the results earlier this month of a constitutional referendum that handed Vladimir Putin a mandate to rule Russia at least until 2036.

Khabarovsk was one of the few regions that delivered an extremely low turnout and a shaky victory for the proposed changes.

Russian secret services last week unleashed what has been described as a fresh wave of political repressions, raiding homes of several opposition activists and arresting Ivan Safronov, a prominent defence reporter, who had quit journalism just two months earlier and became an adviser at Russia's space agency.

Mr Safronov was charged with state treason yesterday, his lawyer said, accusations that have sent a chill through Russia's media community which has protested over what it says is his unfair treatment.

Security forces last week detained Mr Safronov and accused him of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic.

He faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty of a charge he denies.

Police detained around a dozen journalists who gathered outside his detention facility yesterday to offer their support in a case they say is shrouded in unacceptable secrecy.

Details are sparse given its sensitive nature and his trial is likely to be held behind closed doors. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk