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Pensioners' protests apparently gained Putin's attention (file photo)
17 January 2005 -- Russia's government has promised to raise pensions higher than it planned after protests against cuts in social benefits spread across the country.
President Vladimir Putin blamed federal and regional officials for failing to properly implement the Kremlin-sponsored social reforms.
Putin defended the reforms during a partially televised cabinet session today, saying Russia cannot afford to maintain the existing unwieldy and inefficient social support system.
But Putin said the planned increase of 100 rubles ($3.6) in the basic monthly pension is "insufficient" and should be at least doubled.
"I think the 100 ruble increase of the [monthly] general old-age pension, discussed by the government and Duma members before, is insufficient, especially if it were to begin on 1 April," Putin said. "I believe it would be right to increase the pension starting March 1 instead of 1 April, and it should be increased at least twice the amount that was planned or discussed, at least by 200 rubles or maybe a little more."
The country's social security minister then said the increase will be 240 rubles ($9) as of 1 March. The protests were triggered by a new law that gives retirees, the disabled, and war veterans cash stipends instead of benefits such as free public medicine and transportation.
Meanwhile, demonstrations by pensioners protesting the withdrawal of social benefits spread to Siberia today.
An estimated 1,000 protesters gathered in Khabarovsk, and around double that number demonstrated in Angarsk. Reports say demonstrations also took place in Ussuriisk and on the island of Sakhalin.
The demonstrations follow protests in St. Petersburg, Putin's home town.