Russian pensioners protest against high food prices

Other News Materials 3 November 2007 18:22 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - About 1,500 people, half of them pensioners, marched through Russia's second city on Saturday chanting anti-Kremlin slogans and banging saucepans in protest against rising food prices.

Three activists were detained during the largely peaceful "march of the empty saucepans" in St Petersburg, organized by opponents of President Vladimir Putin who blame his leadership for a sharp rise in inflation this year.

"In Russia, 90 years ago, everything also began as a result of rising bread prices. People took to the streets and the tsar was overthrown," said Andrei Dmitriyev, leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party's St Petersburg branch.

Consumer prices are expected to post a double-digit increase this year.

Several hundred policemen lined the route of the march, which attracted activists from the National Bolshevik Party and the United Civil Front, an opposition group headed by ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Kasparov himself was not present.

Putin enjoys enormous popularity in Russia and will lead the pro-Kremlin United Russia's party list in the December 2 election to the lower house of parliament. The constitution requires him to step down as president when his second term expires in March.Protesters shouted slogans such as "Putin's plan is trouble for Russia" and "We're awaiting a bread uprising." Police intervened to prevent activists from hanging an effigy of Putin.

Police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said three protesters had been detained.

Russian milk powder prices have doubled this year and bread prices have rocketed in line with world grain prices.

"I receive a pension of 3,000 roubles ($121.7 per month). They have given me another 300 roubles. On this money, I can eat 250 grams of bread a day. That's why I'm against Putin and United Russia," said a pensioner at the march, who declined to give her name.

Russia has already taken measures to rein in food prices. After a meeting chaired by Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev, food companies last month signed a pact to freeze the prices of basic staples such as bread, eggs, high-fat milk and yoghurt.

The freeze on price rises until January 31 has been criticized by economists as reminiscent of Soviet-style intervention.

Inflation is particularly sensitive to food prices, which make up about 40 percent of the consumer price index in Russia compared with nearer 15 percent in the European Union.