Russian police detain hundreds protesting against pension reform

Police officers detain an elderly man during a rally against planned increases to the nationwide pension age in St. Petersburg, Russia September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police detained more than 800 people protesting against planned increases to the pension age on Sunday, a rights group said, disrupting demonstrations against an unpopular change that has hurt President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating.

The protests, organized by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his supporters, were a challenge to the authorities who were hoping for a high turnout at regional elections also being held on Sunday, despite anger over the pension move.

Footage of the protests, which were held in more than 80 towns and cities, showed the police sometimes using force to disperse rallies, beating participants with batons and dragging them away. The authorities refused to authorize most of the meetings, declaring them illegal.

OVD-Info, a rights organization that monitors detentions, said 839 people had been detained by police on Sunday in 33 cities, including some of Navalny’s closest aides.

It said most of the detentions – 354 – had been made in St Petersburg where authorities had initially authorized a rally before reversing the decision. The interior ministry was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying police had made around 100 detentions in St Petersburg and “several” in Moscow.

The proposed pension changes, which are currently 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.

Navalny, barred from state TV and prevented from running against Putin for president earlier this year, hopes to tap into public anger over the reform.

He had planned to lead Sunday’s protest in Moscow, but a court last month convicted him of breaking protest laws and jailed him for 30 days. Navalny said the move was designed to derail the protests.

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