Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tens of thousands of Russians protest retirement age hikes

MOSCOW (AP) Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied throughout Russia to protest plans to substantially hike the age at which Russian men and women can receive their state retirement pensions.

A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 attended a protest in Moscow that was called by the Communist Party. A similarly large crowd gathered in Yekaterinburg to protest and demonstrations also were reported Saturday in large cities including Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd. No arrests were immediately reported.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, has given its first-reading approval to a measure that would gradually raise the pension ages from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women.

Protesters have called for a national referendum to be held on the issue before the parliament considers further readings of the bill after it resumes in September.

The proposal to raise the pension ages was put forth by the Cabinet on the eve of the opening of the World Cup in Russia last month and many opponents accused the government of trying to slip it past citizens distracted by the global soccer tournament. But protests broke out and dismay with the retirement changes appears to be growing.

President Vladimir Putin's trust rating in public opinion has fallen significantly in the proposal's wake. Last week he appeared to try to tamp down public distress by saying that he would listen to "all opinions" on the matter.

"If the retirement age is increased, every citizen of Russia will be robbed for more than a million rubles ($16,000) and it is unacceptable," activist Sergei Udaltsov said at the Moscow demonstration.

He said if a referendum on the subject isn't held, "millions will go to the streets. We will demand not only stopping the pension reform but also a change of power -- the dismissal of the government, the dissolution of the Duma and the impeachment of the president."

Although Russia's life expectancy rate is rising, many fear they won't survive until the proposed retirement age.

"I think a person cannot work properly at the age of 65, he is an old person already. Besides, everybody knows the statistics of how long people live" in Russia, said Konstantin Zhukov, a protester in Yekaterinburg. "The main question is why I make payments to the pension fund if I probably won't live to get it."

The World Bank says average life expectancy in Russia was 71 as of 2016, up from 65 in 2003. The Russian government says the rise puts a burden on the pension fund that necessitates raising the retirement ages.

On the same day that the pension change was introduced, the Russian government made another proposal to augment state coffers raising the value-added tax by 2 percentage points to 20 percent. On Saturday, that measure was approved by the upper house of parliament, the last step before being signed into law.

___

Dmitri Kozlov in Moscow contributed to this story.

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