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 around 10 percentage points since the pension reforms were proposed, although it still stands at around 70%.
Around 9,000 people gathered 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the Kremlin, according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies, but Moscow police put the numbers at 6,000.
Many carried the red flags and banners of the principal organiser of the protest, the KPRF Communist Party.
A large banner reading “We do not trust United Russia”, Putin’s ruling party, was held up by the crowd and 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 said, addressing the crowd.
He went on to list 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 also voiced their support for the party’s candidate in the Moscow mayoral election, which will be held on Sept 9.
A separate gathering in the city, organised by the Just Russia party attracted a further 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, who was re-elected in March, offered to cut the proposed retirement age for women to 60, from a retirement age of 63 first proposed by the government. Russian women currently retire at 55.
Putin said that the proposal to raise the pension age for men from 60 to 65 would remain unchanged.
Protests also took place on Sunday in cities across Russia, including Siberia’s Novosibirsk and Vladivostok, according to Interfax news agency.