Protests have been held in more than 30 Russian cities amid growing anger at plans to raise the pension age.
Proposals to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 for men, and from 55 to 63 for women, were announced on the opening day of the World Cup and have since been met with widespread opposition, lowering Vladimir Putin’s approval rating.
One poll found 80% of Russians oppose the plans, which the government says are needed to cope with a shrinking workforce having to provide for an increasing number of retirees. As of Sunday, over 2.6 million Russians had signed a Change.org petition calling for the government to scrap the reforms.
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Radio Free Europe says it would be the first pension age increase since Soviet times and “has angered many Russians who would see their retirement recede into the future under the reform”.
“Supporters of the reform say the young retirement ages are a hangover from the Soviet period and are untenable in a market economy” The Guardian reports. “Critics point out that life expectancy for men is barely higher than the new retirement age”.
The World Health Organisation estimates Russian men have an average life expectancy of just 66.
Protests, which took place before Russia’s World Cup game with Spain on Sunday, were led by opposition figure Alexei Navalny, but also included trade unionists, Communists and nationalists, says the BBC.
Protests were, however, banned in any World Cup host city.
The proposals have also been heavily criticised by Russia’s usually subservient press, with Moskovski Komsomolets, a popular Moscow newspaper, describing them as the “most dangerous and risky reform of President Putin's 20-year rule”.
This rare show of defiance reflects the public backlash against the changes that have brought Putin’s approval ratings down from 78% when the measures were announced to 64% in just under two weeks, according to the VTsIOM state pollster.
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