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Thousands Of Russians Protest Against Hike In Retirement Age


Thousands Protest Against Hike In Russia's Retirement Age
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WATCH: Thousands Protest Against Hike In Russia's Retirement Age

MOSCOW -- Tens of thousands of Russians have rallied across the country to protest against a controversial plan to raise the retirement age.

The July 28 protests -- some of the largest to date -- were the latest indication of how politically dangerous the proposal has been for President Vladimir Putin and the government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Legislation now under consideration would raise the retirement age to 65 for men by 2028 and 63 for women by 2034. Currently, the retirement age for men and women is 60 and 55 years, respectively.

Government officials have warned for years that pension ages needed to rise, to take account of the country's demographics, labor force, and projected budgets.

The plan sparked outrage across Russia after it was finally announced last month. Adding to the criticism is the fact that the proposal was released by the cabinet on the eve of the opening of the World Cup.

Many critics accused the government of trying to slip it past Russians who were focused on the soccer tournament.

Putin's public opinion ratings have slipped noticeably since the proposal's release. Last week, he tried to tamp down criticism, saying that he would listen to "all opinions" on the matter.

Russia's Communist Party was the main organizer of the July 28 rallies, but supporters of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and other groups were also trying to capitalize on public discontent.

Protests were taking place in dozens of cities and towns in the country.

In Moscow, organizers said up to 100,000 people gathered for an authorized rally. Observers said the turnout was much lower, however.

Demonstrators in Moscow chanted, "Hands off pensions, Putin!" and carried banners with slogans including, "We want to live on our pensions and not die at work."

Moscow activist Sergei Udaltsov told the U.K. Press Association that unless a national referendum is held on the matter, "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," he added.

He claimed that if the retirement age is increased, "every citizen of Russia will be robbed of more than a million rubles ($16,000)."

In the far northern city of Yakutsk, participants blamed, without evidence, the International Monetary Fund for the pension reforms. Some also blamed the United states, chanting, "Don't Let The [U.S.] State Department Put Us On Our Knees!"

In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, more than 3,000 people jammed into a central square to criticize the proposal.

"This reform will go down in history as one of the darkest moments, alongside the 'shock therapy'" of the 1990s, said Renat Suleimanov, a top official in the Communist Party's regional division.

"Shock therapy" refers to the economic reforms instituted in the early 1990s, which many Russians blame for worsening the problems faced by the country following the Soviet collapse.

More than 2.8 million people have signed a petition against the reform on Change.org.

Critics have said that the retirement age in many regions is higher than life expectancy, which according to the World Bank is 71 years of age as of 2016, up from 65 in 2003.

With reporting by the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service, AFP, and Reuters
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