Thousands of protesters chant anti-Putin slogans at rally against retirement-age plan

Thousands of people protested in central Moscow against a proposed increase to the retirement age, and the crowd chanted slogans critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings have been dented by the bill.

Proposal to boost retirement age has prompted protests across Russia since it was announced June 14

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. (Associated Press)

Thousands of people protested in central Moscow on Sunday against a proposed increase to the retirement age and the crowd chanted slogans critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings have been dented by the bill.

Demonstrators at the rally, organized by the opposition Libertarian Party, chanted "Putin is a thief" and "Away with the czar," slogans that are common at anti-Putin and anti-government protests.

The proposal to raise the retirement age, to 65 from 60 for men and to 63 from 55 for women, is part of an unpopular budget package designed to shore up government finances that is backed by lawmakers.

The retirement age proposal is politically sensitive for Putin, who was re-elected in March, because it has prompted a series of protests across Russia since it was announced on June 14, the day Russia played the first match of its soccer World Cup.

Around 90 per cent of the population oppose the bill, according to a recent opinion poll, and a petition against it has attracted three million signatures online.

More than 6,000 people came to Sunday's rally, which took place about 2.4 kilometres from the Kremlin, according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies using metal detector frames. Police put the number at around 2,500.

'Stop stealing our future'

People held placards with slogans against the higher retirement age and one read: "Stop stealing our future." Authorities detained two protest organizers, according to Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister who is now an opposition campaigner.

Putin, who once promised not to raise the retirement age, has tried to distance himself from the pension plan.

A man steps on a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest over the government's decision to increase the retirement age, in Moscow on July 29, 2018. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

He said earlier this month that he did not like any of the proposals. He said Russia could avoid raising the retirement age for years, though a decision would have to be made eventually. 

"We have to proceed not from emotions, but from the real assessment of economic conditions and prospects of its development and [the development of] the social sphere," Putin said.

On Saturday, more than 12,000 people rallied on the same street in Moscow, according to the White Counter data.

The changes to the retirement age would be introduced gradually, starting in 2019, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said when presenting the plan. Officials said the measure should help to raise an average pension in Russia, now at around $300 Cdn a month.