- Associated Press - Sunday, September 9, 2018

MOSCOW — Opponents of a Russian government move to increase the age for collecting state retirement pensions held protests throughout the country on Sunday and scores of arrests were reported.

The protests were called by Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent foe. Navalny is serving a 30-day jail sentence connected with an unsanctioned protest in January unrelated to the pension proposal, which was introduced in June.

Opposition to the proposal spans the political spectrum. Protests organized by the Communist Party were held across Russia earlier this month.

The plan calls for the pension age to be raised five years - to 65 for men and 60 for women.

Olga Sokolova, a 52-year-old factory worker, said she was “dumbfounded” when the proposal came, because she had hoped to retire from her physically taxing job at 55, the current pension age for women.

“I can’t keep being afraid anymore,” she said of her decision to risk detention by showing up at a protest in Moscow’s Pushkin Square that attracted several hundred people. Protesters in Moscow chanted “Russia without Putin” and held signs including “Putin, when will you go on pension?

Demonstrations also were held in cities in Siberia and the Far East as well as St. Petersburg. Photos on social media indicated most of them were attended by 100 or more protesters, but the crowd in St. Petersburg appeared to exceed 1,000. An Associated Press journalist counted at least 30 people detained at the St. Petersburg protest, which was adjacent to the Finlad Station rail terminal.

News reports and tallies from the OVD-Info organization that monitors political repressions showed at least 40 arrests connected with the protests elsewhere, including 12 each in the cities of Khabarovsk and Tomsk.

A lawyer for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund was arrested in Moscow before the rally.

Raising the pension is opposed both by older people, who fear they won’t live long enough to collect significant benefits, and by younger Russians worried that keeping people in the workforce longer will limit their own employment opportunities.

“The reform is a robbery of my parents and grandparents. We’re stealing our future, too. Right now the only thing we can do is protest,” 24-year-old Igor Panov said at the Moscow demonstration.

Putin’s trust rating in public opinion polls dropped notably after the proposal was put forward and last month offered some concessions, including dropping the age for women from 63 to 60.

But Putin and government officials say the age hike is necessary because rising life expectancy in Russia could exhaust pension resources if the eligibility age remains the same.

Irina Titova contributed to this report from St. Petersburg.

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