| MOSCOW (AP)--Russia 's Kremlin-dominated parliament Tuesday
hotly debated bill that would eliminate an array of Soviet-era social
benefits for millions of some of the country's most vulnerable citizens
including pensioners and World War II veterans - and replace them with
small cash payments.
Advocates of the government-backed bill say that substituting benefits
free transportation and health care with cash will make social aid more
targeted, since rural areas have scarce public transportation and many
subsidized medicines are undersupplied. They also argue that the measure
will be an important step in streamlining the country's laborious
But opponents of the widely unpopular bill, which has sparked numerous
protests across Russia, say that the proposed payments ranging from 800
rubles (US$27) to 3,500 rubles (US$120) a month are too meager and will
be eaten away quickly by inflation. They also say some privileges -like
job guarantees and university quotas for the disabled -are not subject
to any monetary compensation.
"This bill violates the Constitution, which explicitly forbids
which change the lives of the citizens for the worse," independent
Svetlana Goryacheva told reporters Tuesday.
The bill is part of the unpopular and potentially painful reforms Russian
president Vladimir Putin pledged to tackle during his second term.
"Scientists first experiment on animals. But our government is
experimenting on people, on the whole country," said Gennady Seleznyov,
former speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian
parliament, who now is an independent lawmaker.
Both Seleznyov and Goryacheva complained about how the bill was being
pushed quickly through parliament. Citing numerous procedural violations,
they said lawmakers weren't given enough time to study the several hundred
Many lawmakers are having trouble tracking down their amendments in
voluminous bill, they said.
"This is what happens when you have a one-party parliament,"
said. The Kremlin-directed United Russia party has an overwhelming majority
in the Duma.
In the latest series of protests, dozens of activists from the liberal
Yabloko party and the Communist party rallied near the Russian parliament
building, which itself was cordoned-off by police, urging lawmakers to
preserve the benefits.
But despite the protests, the Duma is expected to easily sail the bill
through Tuesday's key second reading. The third and final reading would
mostly technical, and the bill then has to be approved by the parliament's
upper house, which is obedient to the Kremlin, and signed into law by