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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

12,000 Protest Ahead of Budget Vote

APUnion members forming a human chain between the White House and the State Duma on Thursday to protest living conditions.
Thousands of people gathered in central Moscow on Thursday to demand better wages and living conditions in a protest timed to draw the attention of lawmakers as they consider next year's state budget.

About 12,000 people -- from young men in uniform to elderly women -- formed a human chain stretching about 4 kilometers through central Moscow. Under gray skies, the protesters called on the government to pay back wages and increase salaries. No violence was reported.

The protests, which were organized by trade unions and expected to be held throughout the country, came on the eve of the second reading of the 2003 budget in the State Duma.

The draft budget sets expenses at $73 billion and revenues at $76 billion, and proposes spending increases for the defense and law enforcement sectors. More money is also slated to go toward schools and to boost science and technology.

While the economy has improved in recent years largely due to high world oil prices, much of the prosperity has not filtered down to ordinary Russians, particularly those living in remote areas of the country.

Wages are still routinely not paid on time, and cash-strapped municipalities struggle to supply basic necessities -- such as heat and hot water -- to their residents.

"The unions are demanding, above all, higher wages, the payment of back wages," said Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, according to Interfax.

In the Pacific port of Vladivostok, some 4,000 people gathered to demand "decent wages and social guarantees," Itar-Tass reported.

State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said protesters' demands were fair, particularly their calls for improved housing. Seleznyov told Itar-Tass that many lawmakers had joined the lines of protesters.

The Duma, which approved the draft budget in its first reading last month, will hold a second reading Friday.