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Moscow, July 28, 2018 (News Wires) - Tens of thousands of Russians took part on Saturday in rallies across the country organised by Communists to protest against highly controversial plans to hike the pension age.

In Moscow, organisers said up to 100,000 people gathered for a permitted rally against the government-backed reform, which is currently going through parliament. However, reporters put the turnout much lower at around 10,000.

Protests took place in dozens of cities and towns in far eastern Russia, Siberia and western Russia.

Around 1,200 people protested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, TASS state news agency reported, citing city hall.

Demonstrators in Moscow chanted "Pension-off Putin!" and carried banners with slogans including "We want to live on our pensions and not die at work."

In Russia's second largest city of Saint Petersburg, around 1,000 people took part in a Communist rally, with some waving red flags and holding portraits of Stalin.

The rare show of public opposition to a reform backed by President Vladimir Putin's ruling party has seen 2.9 million sign a protest petition and the often compliant Communist Party vote against it.

Putin, who did not mention the issue ahead of his re-election in March and had previously vowed not to raise the pension age, has seen public trust in his presidency fall to 64 per cent this month, down from 80 percent in May, according to VTsIOM state pollster.

"Many believed Putin when he said there would be no pension reform. It turns out that was demagoguery. I'm very disappointed in him," protester Irina Ivanova, 49, told AFP in Saint Petersburg.

The draft law calls for the pension age to be gradually raised to 63 for women and 65 for men, up from the current Soviet-era norms of 55 for women and 60 for men.

Putin last week said he disliked the idea of raising the pension age but that doing nothing was not an option, insisting "we will have to take some crucial decisions".

"Tens of thousands have gathered here to say no to this pension reform," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the Moscow rally.

"This is a blow to every citizen in our country."

Those who oppose the reform argue that many Russians, particularly men, will not live to enjoy their pensions.

Currently, Russian men on average die in their early 60s, Zyuganov said, and "they will all get their pension in their coffins".

In addition, many Russians say that employers are reluctant to hire older people.

"How will we live? I don't know. They don't hire anyone over 50," said 59-year-old Galina Nikiforova in Saint Petersburg.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, representing Putin's United Russia ruling party, said Friday that such protests were pointless.

"You can't resolve these questions at demonstrations," Vyacheslav Volodin told the Communist faction in parliament.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called on his supporters to attend an authorised rally against the pension reforms in Moscow on Sunday afternoon, organised by the little-known Libertarian Party.

"We all understand perfectly: the only real aim of this 'reform' is to rob the public," he wrote on his blog.

Moscow, July 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Around 200 people protested outside the Russian parliament on Thursday ahead of a vote on a hugely unpopular government proposal to raise the pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women.

The planned pension age hike, a first in nearly 90 years, has led to rare public anger across the country and a record slump in President Vladimir Putin's approval ratings.

"We are living quite badly, people's patience is running out," said 54-year-old accountant Natalya.

"We are sick of bearing this."

"This is a vile, inhumane law for Russian citizens," said Valery Rashkin, one of the many Communist MPs who came out to support the protesters.

Minister for Social Affairs Maxim Topilin defended the law in a presentation in the Duma, saying Russia's current pension system was rooted in the 1930s when life expectancy was "completely different."

"Times are changing. The economy is changing," Topilin said. "We cannot be stuck in the 1930s."

Russia currently has one of the lowest pension ages in the world, at 55 for women and 60 for men.

The government says the pension age increase is unavoidable as the current system represents a growing weight for the cash-strapped federal budget.

On Wednesday, the liberal daily Vedomosti reported MPs were "advised" not to criticise Putin -- who has distanced himself from the bill -- during the debate.

But some MPs from the Communist Party, which occasionally challenges the government on social issues but supports the Kremlin on the whole, demanded Putin take a position on the law.

"This is one of the most important laws in the last 14 years, it cannot be debated without such an important person in our political life," said Communist MP Oleg Smolin.

He went on to quote Putin, who famously said in 2005 that there will be no pension age hike in Russia "while I am president."

According to a recent poll, over 80 per cent of Russians are against the reform. More than 2.5 million people have signed a petition against it.

Rallies against the reform were held across the country at the start of the month and a protest on Wednesday evening in Moscow gathered at least a thousand people.

Russian life expectancy is low for a developed country, at about 65 years for men and 76 years for women.

KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank, July 4, 2018 (News Wires) - Palestinian protests broke out on Wednesday at a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank facing Israeli demolition in what rights groups have condemned as a bid to expand Jewish settlement.

Israel moved three bulldozers to the village, Khan al-Ahmar, earlier in the day though demolition had yet to begin, after the military left a land confiscation notice there on Tuesday.

Around 180 Bedouin, raising sheep and goats, live in tin and wood shacks in Khan al-Ahmar. It is situated between a major Israeli settlement, Maale Adumim near Jerusalem, and a smaller one to the northeast, Kfar Adumim.

Khan al-Ahmar was built without Israeli permits, which Palestinians say are impossible to obtain. Israel has long sought to clear Bedouin from the area between the two settlements, and the Supreme Court approved the demolition in May.

Removing the Bedouin, human rights groups say, would create a bigger settlement pocket near Jerusalem and make it more difficult for Palestinians to achieve territorial contiguity in the West Bank, a territory they seek along with the Gaza Strip for a future state.

NANTES, France, July 4, 2018 (News Wires) - The French government on Wednesday called for calm after police in the western city of Nantes clashed overnight with protestors rioting over the death of a young driver who had tried to avoid a checkpoint and was shot by an officer.

The young man, in his early 20s, hit a policeman as he reversed his car away from the control point, prompting another officer to open fire, wounding him fatally, according to a police source.

Protestors burned cars and threw Molotov cocktails at police, and smashed shops and set fire to several buildings across Nantes. The riots ended in the early hours of Wednesday after police sent in reinforcements.

“I’m appealing for absolute calm, as the rule of law will be completely respected,” France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told RTL radio on Wednesday.

Police authorities were investigating the officer’s actions and decision to use his firearm, the police source said.

BAMAKO, June 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Thousands of people marched peacefully through Mali's capital on Friday to call for clean presidential elections next month.

The West African country's opposition, which organised the rally in the capital Bamako, said it had attracted up to 300,000 people, but local reports put the figure at 10,000 to 20,000, all of whom dispersed without incident afterwards.

Earlier this week the European Union urged the government to respect "freedom of expression" and "show restraint" after dozens of people were hurt in banned opposition protests.

The United Nations similarly called for calm. "We turned up to call for transparent elections and equal access to state media, and also to denounce current government policy," opposition leader Soumaila Cisse said.

Cisse, 68, who lost in 2013, is one of some 15 candidates running against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, who is seeking a second term in the July 29 election.

After the recent violence, the UN and the African Union brokered a deal with the government to allow Friday's march.

"No to fraud" and "Equal access to national radio and TV" read two banners at the rally.

"The march is not only to demand clean elections and equal media access. It is also to denounce the regime, the cost of living and corruption," one demonstrator, Mahamane Toure, 51, said.

Mali has been badly hit by an Islamist insurgency in the north which has spread south and into neighbouring countries Burkina Faso and Niger despite peace efforts.

France, the former colonial overseer, intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces combat al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.

The election campaign is due to begin July 7.

 

AMMAN, June 5, 2018 (News Wires) - Jordan's King Abdullah II has warned that the country is "at a crossroads", after a week of anti-austerity protests that continued overnight despite the prime minister's resignation.

Around 2,000 protesters gathered close to the prime minister's office in central Amman, hours after premier Hani Mulki stepped down on Monday.

The king blamed the country's economic woes on regional instability, the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a lack of international support.

"Jordan today stands at a crossroads: either it can come out of the crisis and provide a dignified life to our citizens, or, God forbid, it can go into the unknown -- but we have to know where we are going," he told a group of journalists late Monday, according to the official Petra agency.

Protesters gathered overnight under a heavy police presence near the premier's office shouting slogans against the government and the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded economic reforms.

Some brought along children and others presented trays of sweets to security forces.

Last month, the government proposed a new income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

They are the latest in a series of measures since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

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