Saturday, January 15, 2005

Moscow Previews Baby Boomer Protest Marches

A preview of what George Bush and our Congressional legislators may experience if they cut social security benefits: a retiree uprising and rebellion. From Moscow today By Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press Writer.

"Massive demonstrations across Russia posed a major challenge to President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, and Moscow authorities bowed to the demands of protesting retirees by restoring some of their state benefits, such as free public transportation and subsidized medicine.

As many as 10,000 protesters blocked major avenues in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. The rally in Putin's home city appeared to be the largest protest so far, and some of its participants called on Putin to step down.

In Moscow suburbs, hundreds of retirees have repeatedly blocked highways, paralyzing traffic for hours. About 1,000 elderly protesters gathered again under red flags Saturday in Khimki on the capital's northwestern fringe, calling for the dismissal of the Moscow regional Gov. Boris Gromov.

'Putin's policy is that of a genocide," said one elderly protester, Mikhail Kononov. 'The government is waiting for all of us to die.' ....

The protests began after a new law that took effect Jan. 1 replaced years-old benefits for retirees, the disabled, war veterans and others with cash payments. The size and extent of the protests are an unusual sign of discontent in Russia, where most citizens have either supported Putin or accepted Kremlin initiatives with little dissent.

Protesters complained that the cash payments were far smaller than the costs of transportation and other services they were intended to replace and several regions were unable to provide them on time. They also lamented that pharmacies were short of subsidized medications.

Gromov's spokesman, Andrei Barkovsky, said on Echo of Moscow radio Saturday that free rides on public transport will be restored for all retirees living in the Moscow region. Facing protests, more and more regional officials were ordering to keep some of the benefits — mostly free transportation — in place, at least temporarily.

The Kremlin-sponsored reform has eroded Putin's popularity, and some analysts predicted that Putin might oust some Cabinet members to deflect criticism. Lyubov Sliska, a senior member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party that dominates the parliament, fueled such speculation Friday, saying she did not rule out the possibility of Putin firing his government.

In Moscow, lawmakers in the State Duma, the parliament's lower house, sought to ease tensions this week by promising to consider raising pensions.

Many observers said protests were likely to intensify further when people start receiving heating and other utility bills for January, which will increase significantly because of the end of government subsidies."

Lots of feisty baby boomers would love nothing more than to march in the streets, protesting George Bush's cutbacks of their social security retirement payments. Would bring back fond memories of those good old undergraduate days....

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