MOSCOW - Thousands of Russians turned out to protest deeply unpopular pension reforms on Sunday as the country voted in local elections. Police arrested more than 150 people who were taking part in nationwide demonstrations called by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, independent monitor OVD-info said. At least 2,000 people rallied in central Moscow, an AFP correspondent said, as the capital held a mayoral election the Kremlin-backed incumbent is sure to win. "They're spending money on the army in Syria, in Ukraine, for the president's friends, but nothing for pensioners," Olga Chenushka, a 44-year-old finance manager told AFP. Tatyana Rechetskaya, a 21-year-old primary school teacher, described the reforms as "the last straw, we can't bear it". Plans to raise the state pension age to 60 for women and 65 for men has led to a rare outburst of public anger and seen Vladimir Putin's approval ratings take a hit.
The hike, the first such move in nearly 90 years, would bring retirement more in line with the West, but critics point out a lower life expectancy means many will never see their pensions. In Saint Petersburg, a largely young crowd of around 1,000 people shouted "shame" and held signs calling for Putin's resignation.
"People are demanding the money they have earned. They have the right. But they're even being denied the right to protests," Irina Akopenkova, 47, told AFP in Russia's second city.