Tens of thousands of people have joined demonstrations in several Russian cities to protest against government plans to raise the retirement age.
More than 10,000 people attended a rally in the capital, Moscow, on Saturday.
The event was one of several approved rallies arranged by Russia’s Communist Party, with demonstrations also taking place in the country’s second-biggest city of St Petersburg and other large urban centres.
The government has proposed gradually raising the pension age from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women. The change would also affect the age at which Russians can receive state retirement pensions.
Demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as “We want to live on our pensions not die at work”, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, said the proposed reform would be “a blow to every citizen” and accused President Vladimir Putin‘s ruling United Russia party of attempting to pass unpopular legislation.
“The primary mission [of the demonstrations] is explaining that this reform is not good, but United Russia, which is not supported by people, tries to push it through – there are other options”.
Unions and activists have raised concerns that, should the proposal be accepted, many people may not live long enough to claim a state pension.
According to the World Health Organization, Russian men have an average life expectancy of 66 years, while for women the figure is 77.
Critics say in some regions, the new retirement age would exceed life expectancy.
Protesters are calling for a national referendum to be held before the parliament considers further readings of the bill, after it resumes in September.
Earlier this month, Russia’s lower house of parliament gave its first-reading approval to the measure, which is intended to address workplace shortages and boost the economy.
The Russian economy has been suffering for several years, burdened by sanctions imposed after the country’s annexation of Crimea and a drop in oil prices.
Natalya Poklonskaya, the only United Russia MP to vote against the bill, has faced calls for her resignation after party members were told to sign a pledge promising not to criticise the unpopular wage rise, according to The Moscow Times, a weekly English-language newspaper.
On July 1, smaller protests took place in around 30 Russian cities to oppose the bill, which was announced the day before the World Cup began.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter at the time that the proposed rise was a “crime”.
“It is common robbery of tens of millions of people under the guise of ‘much-needed’ reform,” he said.
Protests were banned in World Cup host cities during the competition, which ended on July 15.
Almost three million people have signed an online petition against the reform, which has been described by Moskovski Komsomolets, a Moscow newspaper, as “the most dangerous and risky reform of President Putin’s 20-year rule”.
In March, Putin won a landslide re-election victory, extending his rule for another six years. The 65-year-old has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000.
According to a recent poll, public trust in Putin has declined, with a survey published earlier in July by the state-funded Russian Public Opinion Research Center finding that just 37.9 percent of respondents trusted the president on taking decisions of national importance.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies