Russians protest against pension age hike


Russian President Vladimir Putin's ally has been overwhelmingly re-elected Moscow's mayor, officials said Monday, following a poll overshadowed by pension protests and mass arrests. An Associated Press journalist counted at least 30 people detained at the St. Petersburg protest, which was adjacent to the Finlad Station rail terminal.

The election-day protests against the pension-reform plan that were organized by Navalny triggered harsh crackdowns by riot police in several cities and led to criminal charges against some of the more than 1,000 protesters detained nationwide.

Dozens of supporters and protest organisers have been held by police ahead of the demonstrations, Russian media reported.

The OVD-Info group, which tracks police detentions and posts the names of the detainees on its website, said Monday that 1,018 people were detained, almost half of them in St. Petersburg.

Popular opposition leader Yevgeny Roizman, who is a former mayor of Yekaterinburg, said on Twitter that a younger generation took the lead because middle-aged Russians were too scared to protest.

Communists beat candidates of the ruling party in elections to the regional parliaments of Khakasia, Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk regions.

Putin, who is 65, has attested that the pension age should be raised to 60 for women and 65 for men because there is an escalating burden on the pension system.

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As with the presidential election in March, which saw Vladimir Putin return to the Kremlin for a fourth term easily, the focus has moved to turnout due to the lack of suspense over results.

"The state should have found the money it needed in the budget or through fighting corruption", 19-year-old Yegor Zhukov said at the St. Petersburg protest.

The proposed pension changes, which are now going through parliament, have shaved around 15 percentage points off Putin's popularity rating and are the most unpopular government measure since a 2005 move to scrap Soviet-era benefits.

In Moscow, authorities charged two men with assailing police.

The protests delt a blow to authorities hoping for high voter turnout at regional elections also being held on Sunday.

The proposals have been heavily criticised by Russia's usually subservient press, with Moskovski Komsomolets, a popular Moscow newspaper, describing them as the "most unsafe and risky reform of President Putin's 20-year rule". Average life expectancy for men is 66 and for women 77.

There will also be run-offs for the governors of Khakasia, Primorsky Krai, Vladimir Oblast and Khabarovsk Krai, where United Russia candidates will compete with candidates from the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a nationalist group.