July 22, 2020 / 8:20 AM / 19 days ago

Putin appointee in Russia's restive Far East rejects protesters' demand to quit

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin’s pick to quell more of a week of unrest in the Russian Far East told protesters on Wednesday he would not step down after his arrival in the region sparked new anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

Mikhail Degtyarev, member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), is seen on a screen during a video conference call with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Kerch, Crimea July 20, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

Putin named Mikhail Degtyaryov, 39, as the new acting governor of the Khabarovsk region on Monday after Sergei Furgal, the previous regional head, was arrested on murder charges he denies and taken to Moscow seven time zones away to be tried.

Hundreds took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the Kremlin’s handling of the political crisis after Degtyaryov, who is not from the region, flew to Khabarovsk to take the helm.

The tensions are a headache for the Kremlin, which is trying to troubleshoot a sharp COVID-19-induced drop in real incomes and keep a lid on unrest as the economy stutters.

“To those shouting ‘Degtyaryov - leave!’, I won’t leave. There’s work to do, you understand?” Degtyaryov said, adding that a huge backlog of work had built up since Furgal’s arrest.

“If I leave, someone else will come,” he said in a video clip posted on Instagram.

Furgal’s detention has unleashed an unusual and sustained series of anti-Kremlin protests.

Born in the Far East and a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Furgal came to power in 2018 after defeating an opponent from the ruling United Russia party that backs Putin and dominates regional and parliamentary politics.

Some of his supporters see his prosecution as political retribution for dealing the party a rare defeat.

The case has highlighted anger among some in the Far East over what they see as policies emanating from detached Moscow-based authorities on the other side of the country.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn

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