People attend a protest against a proposed increase of the retirement age in Moscow, Russia, September 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS
People attend a protest against a proposed increase of the retirement age in Moscow, Russia, September 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Moscow — Thousands of people across Russia joined protests on Sunday against government plans to raise the pension age, despite recent promises by President Vladimir Putin to soften the unpopular measure.

Sunday’s protests show that the proposed policy remains a politically sensitive issue for the government despite concessions offered by Putin in a televised address on Wednesday.

During the speech, Putin took personal responsibility for the reform for the first time and described it as a financial necessity. He ended his address by asking the Russian people for their understanding.

Polls by the Levada Centre show Putin’s personal approval rating has fallen about 10 percentage points since the pension reforms were proposed, though it still stands at about 70%.

About 9,000 people gathered 2.5km from the Kremlin, according to White Counter, a nongovernmental organisation that counts participants at rallies, but Moscow police put the number at 6,000.

Many carried the red flags and banners of the principal organiser of the protest, the KPRF Communist Party.

'We do not trust United Russia'

A large banner reading "We do not trust United Russia", Putin’s governing party, held by the crowd featured a drawing of a red fist punching the white polar bear logo of Putin’s party.

"Today we are holding an all-Russia protest against this cannibalistic reform," veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the crowd. He listed his party’s proposals for raising money for the state budget, focused on taxing Russia’s so-called oligarchs, instead of raising the retirement age.

Speakers voiced support for the party candidate in the Moscow mayoral election, on September 9.

A separate gathering in the city, organised by the Just Russia party, attracted 1,500 people protesting against the pension reforms, Moscow police said.

In his address on Wednesday, Putin watered down the draft pension-reform legislation, introduced by the government on June 14, which opinion polls showed was opposed by 90% of Russians and which has provoked a string of protests in recent weeks.

Putin, re-elected in March, offered to cut the proposed retirement age for women to 60, from 63 first proposed by the government. Russian women currently retire at 55.

Reuters

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