MOSCOW (Reuters) - Several thousand people gathered in Russia's far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday for what has become a regular weekly protest against the Kremlin since the region's popular governor was detained in July, a Reuters witness said.
Residents of Khabarovsk, which lies about 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, started the rallies after the July 9 arrest of Sergei Furgal on murder charges that he denies.
Furgal's supporters, who say his detention is politically motivated, accuse President Vladimir Putin of mishandling the local political crisis.
"Putin is a thief - he stole Furgal from us," some of the protesters chanted as they marched down the city's main thoroughfare on Saturday, a day before the country holds local elections.
Local authorities, according to TASS news agency, gave a lower estimate of the size of the crowd, saying about 700 people had taken part.
The Khabarovsk protesters also demanded Sunday's elections are fair. Some held placards reading "Every vote matters" or depicting caricatures of Ella Pamfilova, the head of the Central Election Commission, with the question "Fair elections?"
Sunday's vote, which is seen by the Kremlin as a dry run for parliamentary elections next September, will elect 18 regional governors and a slew of local parliaments and city councillors. Early voting began on Friday.
(Writing by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Helen Popper)