MOSCOW: A nationwide strike designed to demonstrate popular outrage over unpaid salaries and pensions fell far short of its goal Thursday, attracting a mere 500,000 protesters — far short of the expected 17 million. But while few Russian households are not affected in some way by the government's failure to pay wages or pensions on time, apathy apparently got the better of insult. The strike in Moscow was limited to a gaggle of elderly communists and pensioners clutching red flags in front of Government House — a common sight in a capital where petitioning the government is seen as a useless, time-exorbitant activity better left to the old. Although the Interior Ministry posted 16,000 troops around key government buildings and crossroads, they were not needed. Vladivostok, a major port city in the Far East, witnessed one of the largest protests, with 5,000 to 10,000 marchers parading through town with red flags and banners bearing the names of delinquent factories. Despite the scraggly turn-out, the strike ranks as the biggest protest against government economic policies since President Boris Yeltsin was re-elected last July. Yeltsin and his team of reformers, headed by Anatoly Chubais, have pledged to make payment of overdue salaries and pensions the Administration's chief priority. Russians aren't holding their breaths: Despite numerous such promises, few funds have been released.