Protesters carry a banner reading "Freedom for Furgal" at a rally supporting Khabarovsk region Governor Sergei Furgal who is charged with ordering killings. Photo: Aleksandr Yanyshev/AFP)

Tens of thousands of people rallied Saturday in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk in new protests in support of a popular governor and in a rare show of defiance against the Kremlin.

Sergei Furgal was arrested last week on charges of ordering the killings of businessmen 15 years ago. 

His arrest has sparked unprecedented demonstrations in Khabarovsk, a city of about 600,000 people near the border with China, and smaller towns nearby.

The 50-year-old governor has denied the charges, which his supporters say are politically motivated.

Furgal, of the nationalist LDPR party, won the governor’s seat from a representative of the ruling United Russia party in 2018.

On Saturday, tens of thousands, including young people, the elderly and women with children in pushchairs marched through the centre of Khabarovsk in temperatures of over 30C.

They carried placards reading “Freedom for Furgal!” and chanted “As long as we are united we are invincible”, as passing cars honked horns in support.

The protesters called for a fair trial for the governor, and not in Moscow, where he is being held.

“It’s our governor. And we will defend him,” they shouted.

As with previous protests, the rally was not approved by the authorities but police made no move to disperse it.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands also poured on to the streets of Khabarovsk to protest Furgal’s arrest.

The protests mark a rare show of defiance in the remote regions against the Kremlin, and come after President Vladimir Putin this month oversaw a deeply controversial constitutional vote that allows him to extend his hold on power until 2036.