Hundreds protest against military conscription

Hundreds protested in central Moscow on Saturday, calling for an end to mandatory military service and criticizing plans to cut draft deferments as the Russian armed forced began their spring conscription campaign, AP reported.

The demonstration, part of a nationwide campaign led by opposition politicians and anti-draft activists, drew about people to Pushkin Square. Many chanted slogans or held posters saying the Army is Slavery or Draft: No, and some called for resignation of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and President Vladimir Putin.

The protest came as the government prepares to scrap a series of deferments a move Ivanov says is necessary to fulfill plans to reduce the term of mandatory service from two years to one and amid public dismay over a horrific case that highlighted the persistent problem of abuse in the military.

The protest was timed to coincide with the start of the spring draft, in which the Itar-Tass news agency said the military plans to conscript nearly 125,000 young men into its ranks 9.7 percent of those ranging in age from 18 to 27.

All Russian men in that age group are theoretically required to serve in the 1.2 million-member military, but fewer than 10 percent are normally drafted, while many dodge service by signing up for college, being excused for health reasons often falsified or simply paying bribes.

Late last month, Ivanov said several categories of draft deferments would have to be scrapped in order to carry out plans to reduce the mandatory term of service from two years to 1 1/2 years in 2007 and one year in 2008. The fate of the current three-year conscription term for the navy is unclear.

Some Kremlin critics want mandatory service to be eliminated altogether, citing poor conditions in the underfunded military and rampant bullying of young conscripts by older soldiers a problem underscored by abuse of an 18-year-old private over the New Year that resulted in the amputation of his legs and genitals.


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