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Russian Protests Continue Over Welfare Bill --> 3 August 2004 -- Dozens of demonstrators have gathered near the State Duma lower chamber of Russian parliament to protest a controversial draft bill that seeks to replace Soviet-style benefits with cash payments.

Russia's Interfax news agency reports protestors include activists of the Yabloko liberal opposition party and elderly citizens.

The Duma is scheduled to examine the bill in a second reading today.

The law would offer monthly payments instead of privileges such as free medical care, drugs, public transportation, and sanatorium stays.

The government says the legislation would make aid more targeted to needed segments of the population. But critics argue the payments would be diminished by inflation and would not provide adequate compensation.

Communist Party supporters and elderly people yesterday gathered in front of the Duma to protest the bill. Also, some 30 members of the National-Bolshevik Party were detained after forcing their way into the Health Ministry building.

(Interfax/Ekho Moskvy)