Protests rock Iraqi Kurdistan for second day

Kurdish protesters attend a rally against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017
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Protests rock Iraqi Kurdistan for second day

SULAIMANIYAH: Protesters in Iraqi Kurdistan torched a mayor’s office and stormed a ruling party building on Tuesday as anger raged for a second day over the disastrous fallout from an independence vote.
The September referendum delivered a resounding “yes” for independence but drew sweeping reprisals from Baghdad, which dealt a heavy blow to the autonomous region’s already flagging economy.
In its second largest city Sulaimaniyah, security forces fired in the air to disperse demonstrators marching on the central Saray Square, an AFP correspondent reported.
Roadblocks sprang up across the city on major roads and around the offices of the main political parties.
Sulaimaniyah is a bastion of opposition to former regional President Massoud Barzani, who organized the independence vote, but all five of the region’s main political parties saw their offices attacked on Monday.
Protests were also held in the Sulaimaniyah province towns of Rania and Kifri, and in Halabja and Koysinjaq in neighboring Irbil province.
In Koysinjaq, demonstrators set fire to the mayor’s office, while in Kifri hundreds stormed the offices of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party after pelting the building with stones, witnesses said.
“You’re incapable — incapable of defending the disputed areas and incapable of ruling the Kurdistan region,” one demonstrator shouted.
The disputed areas are a large swathe of historically Kurdish-majority territory outside the autonomous region that Kurdish leaders have long wanted to incorporate in it.
The Kurds took control of many of them during the fightback against Daesh from 2014.
But after the independence referendum, federal forces retook nearly all of them, including the large city of Kirkuk and its nearby oilfields, which accounted for a major part of the autonomous government’s revenues.
After his gamble on the referendum backfired spectacularly, Barzani announced he was stepping down in late October.
Legislative and presidential elections in the region due on Nov. 1 were postponed because of the turmoil.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the ex-president’s nephew, has pledged to hold the polls over the next three months.
Issam Al-Fayli, professor of political science at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University, said the explosion of anger was directed against the political status quo that has dominated Iraqi Kurdistan for years.
“These demonstrations are targeting all politicians because the people believe that they make them live without justice,” he told AFP.
“This is the first time that there are demonstrations against all Kurdish figures across the board and I believe that we are headed for a radical change as there is currently no politician capable of leading.”
Residents in the regional capital Irbil told AFP that salaries have been slashed since September and that the price of kerosene for heating has reached new highs.
There are only four hours of electricity each day and many people are unable to cover the costs of running generators, they said.
The federal government appears to be giving short shrift to the worsening economic crunch facing the Kurds, with Baghdad looking to cut the share of the national budget allocated to the region from 17 to 12.6 percent.
“What is happening in Kurdistan is due to the poor policies of the autonomous government and the political parties,” said government spokesman Saad Al-Hadithi.
Hadithi insisted the root cause of the economic problems was the Kurdish authorities exporting oil without Baghdad’s consent and “with no transparency or oversight.”
But analyst Fayli warned that the federal government needs to step in to help fix the crisis or risk watching the discontent spiral out of control.
“If the autonomous government collapses, then that will create a political void that will hit stability in the country,” he said.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.