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Anger in Russia over move to raise pension age beyond life expectancy

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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A man steps on a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a rally against proposed pension reforms in Moscow, last weekend. A government bid to dramatically raise the retirement age is sparking wide public anger. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

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  • Vladimir Putin's approval rating takes a hit after Russia moves to increase the age at which citizens can receive a pension.
  • Thomas Daigle reports on violent knife crime on the streets of London, and its ties to drill, a sub-genre of rap music.
  • The "French Spiderman" is barred from Hong Kong for a year over his daredevil stunts — but will it stop the friendly neighbourhood climber?
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Age rage in Russia

Anger in Russia over a government proposal to dramatically raise the retirement age has hit a new threshold after someone set a bomb off outside a national pension fund office.

No one was hurt in the blast this morning in the city of Kaluga, 180 km southwest of Moscow, but pictures and video show significant damage to the building's entrance, with shattered glass, displaced tiles and a twisted metal door. 

The proposed reforms, which would see the retirement age rise from 60 to 65 for men, starting in 2028, and see women get their pension at age 60 instead of 55 as of 2034, were quietly introduced by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on June 14 — the first of day of the World Cup soccer tournament.

Russians, however, took notice. A national poll last month by Moscow's Levada Center found that almost 90 per cent of those surveyed oppose the changes. Much of the anger is fuelled by the fact that the current life expectancy for men in Russia is just 66.5 years.

Last weekend saw anti-pension-reform demonstrations in several cities across the country. 

An elderly woman holds a poster that reads 'Want to Retire, it's time to change the authority!' during a rally protesting retirement age hikes in Moscow on Saturday, July 28, 2018. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied throughout Russia to protest plans to substantially hike the age at which Russian men and women can receive their state retirement pensions. (Associated Press)

In Moscow, an estimated 12,000 people turned out for a rally organized by the Russian Communist Party and trade unions, carrying signs like "We want to live on our pensions, not die at work" and "the government must go." Some protesters dressed up like the grim reaper, carrying scythes.

As it stands, Russia has the lowest retirement age of any developed country and a huge demographic problem. The population is rapidly aging and by 2036, there will be twice as many retirees as workers

By some estimates, the state pension fund is only covering 60 per cent of its current outlay, with the government making up the shortfall out of the general budget.

Russian politicians have long acknowledged the pressing need to reform the pension system, but few have wanted to court the inevitable public anger. The Kremlin has taken great pains to try and distance President Vladimir Putin from the reforms, saying he wasn't even involved in the discussions. But it isn't working. Over the past couple of months, his approval rating has dropped from 80 to 64 per cent — its lowest level in more than four years

The pension bill easily passed its first reading in the Duma last month, but in a rare show of defiance, all the opposition parties and two members of Putin's United Russia movement voted against it. Parliamentary hearings are scheduled for later this month. 

But there are signs that the government is worried.

News of today's explosion first came via Nika, a regional broadcaster. But a story and footage were later removed from its website, with no explanation

Police officers secure an area in Camberwell, south London, where a rapper known as Incognito was killed and two others injured in a stabbing, on Thursday. Knife violence is a growing concern in the country. ((Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP))

London's violent crime reprieve

Thomas Daigle reports from London:

London's violent crime crisis may be "stabilizing," according to the city's police chief.

But a deadly triple stabbing this week shows how far the British capital still has to go to secure its streets.

The attack Wednesday night in Camberwell, southeast London, left two males, 16 and 31, hospitalized. A 23-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scotland Yard said two men, 18 and 19, were arrested nearby.

With three victims, the incident is rare in its scale of brutality. But it does reflect some trends in a recent rash of violence.

The victims and suspects are all male. They're all young. And they appear connected to an underground world that worries police.

Mayor Sadiq Khan and police commissioner Cressida Dick say Londoners will see an increased police presence in the coming days, in particular near mosques during Ramadan. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

The 23-year-old who died has been identified as rapper Siddique Kamara, a.k.a. Incognito, a.k.a. SK, a member of Moscow17

The names don't ring a bell? You would be forgiven, if you don't listen to drill.

Drill music is a sub-genre of rap which started in Chicago. London's Metropolitan Police see it as glorifying violence. 

YouTube has taken down dozens of drill music videos at the request of British police.

The London rapper killed this week was previously charged — and later cleared — of a stabbing death last year. "At this early stage, one line of enquiry is this being gang-related," the police said in a statement on Thursday

Authorities don't all agree on the influence drill is having on the violent crime epidemic. Opposition politicians often blame police cuts carried out in past years by the Conservative government.

Steve O'Connell, a Conservative London city councillor, told me he doesn't buy that theory. Scotland Yard "is well funded," he said.

O'Connell also serves as chairman of City Hall's police and crime committee.

The reasons for the spike in violence "are complex," he said. "It used to be a 'gangs' issue, and we're finding increasingly it's not a 'gangs' issue."

Government figures published in June show in the year to March 2017, there were 34,700 recorded instances of knife crime in England and Wales. It marked a seven-year high.

Earlier this week, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick told media in London that "in recent weeks we have seen the rates begin to stabilize." 

She said there had been five homicides in London in July, compared with an average of 15 every month earlier in the year, according to the London Evening Standard.

That's rare encouraging news for Londoners concerned about violence in their streets.

Thomas will have a special report on Londoners who have been affected by knife crime, and are now fighting to stop it. Watch it Sunday night on The National.

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'French Spiderman' Alain Robert is arrested by police after climbing the 57-storey Lumiere building on August 30, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. (Craig Golding/Getty Images)

The 'French Spiderman' shrugs

An extreme climber has been banned from Hong Kong for a year as a punishment for his past skyscraper scaling.

Alain Robert, who bills himself as the French Spiderman, has built a career out of climbing the facades of many of the world's best-known buildings and landmarks, often without ropes, harness or invitation.

Hong Kong Police arrested him in early July, following a successful climb of the city's 165-metre-high Four Seasons hotel, a stunt designed to promote the Dwayne Johnson movie Skyscraper. The soon-to-be 56-year-old had permission — and it wasn't even the first time he had scampered up the tower — but he was charged over another ascent back in 2011, when he scaled the 27-floor Hang Seng Bank building as part of an anti-global warming protest, tying up traffic below. 

Robert appeared in court yesterday, to answer a count of public nuisance, agreeing to a deal that will see him stay away from the city for a year. 

"On the 366th day I can come back," he joked to reporters afterwards. "It doesn't mean I will. I'm just technically talking this is how it works."

Arrests are an occupational hazard for the Frenchman.

Robert uses his mobile phone after climbing the 231-metre-high First Tower, the tallest skyscraper in France on May 10, 2012. (Getty Images) (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty)

At the beginning of June, he was halfway up 123-storey Lotte World Tower in Seoul — the world's fifth tallest building — when security guards intercepted him and pulled him inside. Robert said the climb was inspired by talk of peace between the two Koreas. "I may get a hefty fine… but I did it because of what is happening now between South Korea and North Korea," he told Agence France Presse. "That is my way of saying thank you to Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in."

Robert has climbed over 100 structures in his two-decade career, including the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and the 828-metre-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building. 

But as his website makes clear, he is mostly a daredevil for hire. 

"Alain Robert is well-known all over the world for over two decades...each of his ascent are widely and worldly covered on TV, newspapers and Internet," it reads in less-than-standard English. "It is giving the garanty (sic) to your brand to get seen at least few thousand times only for one single ascent."

A 2003 climb of the Lloyd's of London building, in the heart of the British capital, to promote a Spiderman movie, reportedly earned him $18,000 US.

But his only visible endorsement deal appears to be with a Paris hair-transplant clinic, which he credits for his flowing blond locks. 

The stunts have also taken a toll on his body. Robert has suffered at least seven serious falls since he began in the early 1980s. The worst, a 15-metre drop in 1982, left him in a coma with multiple fractures, nerve damage and a still-enduring case of vertigo. He claims to be "disabled up to 66 per cent."

"Spiderman is my nickname, but I have no supernatural powers," says his official bio. "Climbing is my passion, my philosophy of life." 

A few words on …

Halifax's "Agave Maria."

Quote of the moment

"A number of my colleagues have received — and continue to receive — specific and rather credible-looking threats of violence."

-Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, on the anti-media mood in the U.S., stoked anew at an angry Trump rally last night.

What The National is reading​

  • My son, Osama bin Laden: Al-Qaeda leader's mom speaks for first time (Guardian)
  • Possible dam failure threatens part of Virginia (CBC)
  • 'Spycam porn' sparks record protests in South Korea (AFP)
  • Aeroplan forms partnership with Porter Airlines after Air Canada bid fails (CBC)
  • Zimbabwe police break up opposition press conference (Sky News)
  • Musk says Tesla will be self-funded, shun Wall Street (LA Times)
  • Turkish lira hits record low as U.S. sanctions bite (Deutsche Welle)
  • Pope Francis pens message of support to Brazil's Lula (Telesur)

Today in history

Aug. 3, 1958: The ghost of Gibraltar Point lighthouse

On a dark January night in 1815, a band of thirsty soldiers set off from Fort York garrison to Toronto Island to call on John Paul Radelmüller, the keeper of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse, and a bootlegger of American whiskey. According to legend, a fight ensued when Radelmüller refused them seconds and the lighthouse keeper was "never to be seen again, in flesh and blood form." For decades, island residents reported seeing strange lights, a shadowy figure — and perhaps most disconcertingly, blood stains that would come and go from the lighthouse steps. 

The spectre of murdered Mr. Muller, first keeper of the lighthouse, is said to haunt Toronto Island. 6:35

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