Outcry over retirement age plan brings rare Putin concession

MOSCOW (AP) — Facing protests and a noticeable dip in his approval ratings, President Vladimir Putin made rare concessions today to an unpopular pension-reform package that increased the retirement age for Russians.

The televised address marked an extraordinary occasion when Putin apparently felt compelled to explain a major policy decision to the public, reflecting the contentious nature of the retirement reforms.

The general idea of increasing the retirement age was justified because of Russia's economy and demographic trends and "cannot be put off any longer," Putin said.

Without such a move, Russia's pension system "would crack and eventually collapse," he said, adding: "I'm asking you to be understanding of this."

In softening the plan, he said the new retirement age for women will be raised only to 60 from the current 55, instead of the previous government proposal to increase it to 63.

Left unchanged, however, was increasing the retirement age for men from 60 to 65.

Russia's economy has been hobbled in recent years by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The country also faces a demographic crisis in the coming years as a result of the extremely low birth rates that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The retirement age is supposed to be raised gradually — by one year every year over the next five years.

The softening of the proposal for women, to five years instead of eight, was because of what Putin called the important role women play in Russian society.

"In our country, we treat women in a special, caring way," he said.

The government's plan to raise the retirement age initially was announced by the government in June on the first day of the World Cup in Russia, when the attention of most of the country was focused on soccer.

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