Retired Lebanese soldiers protest over benefits cut

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A retired Lebanese soldier holds a national flag, during a protest in front the central bank headquarters, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP)
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Retired Lebanese soldiers gesture as they take part in a protest against draft state budget proposals they fear would curb military benefits, in front of the central bank in Beirut, Lebanon May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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Retired Lebanese soldiers sit together as they take part in a protest against draft state budget proposals they fear would curb military benefits, in front of the central bank in Beirut, Lebanon May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 14 May 2019

Retired Lebanese soldiers protest over benefits cut

  • The retired soldiers are angry about threats to their pensions
  • Lebanon’s coalition government held its latest meeting to try to agree a budget that would reduce the fiscal deficit in the heavily indebted state

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers have suspended their protests outside Lebanon’s Central Bank in Beirut and its branches in other parts of the country until further notice at the request of Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab.

The retired soldiers are angry about threats to their pensions while the Cabinet debates a draft budget to reduce Lebanon’s fiscal deficit by cutting public spending and introducing austerity measures. Workers from the education and social security sectors have also been protesting.

Retired Brig. Gen. Samer Ramah reported Bou Saab as saying that he wanted the ex-troops to end their protests and that he would raise the relevant budget item with the Cabinet and request its deletion from the draft.

On Sunday night, protesters in Beirut’s Riad Al-Solh Square threw eggs at the motorcade of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Retired soldiers stopped Central Bank employees from entering their offices, raising the Lebanese flag and holding banners that read: “The Army is a Red Line.”

Bank sources said some employees spent the night in their offices to prevent the disruption to financial and monetary operations including clearances, external and internal remittances, and payments.

A committee of retired soldiers met with Bou Saab and an agreement was reached on the most contentious issues. A plan was developed for coordination between the ministry and the committee. A number of protesters implied that they would take measures to escalate the situation if their entitlements were threatened.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Tabeekh said on behalf of the protesters: “Retired soldiers are not the reason for the budget deficit and will not allow the infringement of their acquired rights. It is not logical that the sons of soldiers, especially the sons of martyrs, be deprived of education and decent living allowances. The taxes should be taken from the appropriation of public goods, marine property and from yacht owners.”

The Cabinet held a session on Sunday under Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to continue debating the draft budget. The session continued until 2 a.m. on Monday. Another session was held Monday afternoon.

Minister of Social Affairs Richard Kouyoumjian said that salary reduction was not on the draft budget submitted by Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and that he had only recently mentioned it.

“All that is being reported in the media does not exist,” he added.

Kouyoumjian said the protests were unacceptable. “When we take action, we will announce it without shame. The soldiers’ salaries will not be affected. There has only been an increase in the income tax on military retired pay, just as in the case of all Lebanese retirees and every soldier in the world. The people of Lebanon should know that there are people who receive LBP15 million ($9,950) as an education allowance, and these are the ones included in the reduction; not those who receive an education allowance of LBP2 million.”

The Cabinet decided during Sunday’s session to approve the reduction of motorcycles registration fees, make the state’s contribution to free schools subject to the oversight of education inspections, raise fines on tax evasion to control collection, raise fees on foreigners’ work permits, and reduce the state’s contribution to public institutions.

The head of the General Labor Union, Bishara Asmar, told Arab News that the organization was keeping an eye on what would happen as it had submitted a memo to the Hariri about the damage that would be caused to employment sectors because of the draft budget.

“Hariri promised to be positive in studying the content of the memorandum, so let us give them a chance,” he added.


Syria regime forces battle militants for key town, highway

Updated 23 min 14 sec ago

Syria regime forces battle militants for key town, highway

  • The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime
  • Pro-regime forces have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun

BEIRUT: Syrian pro-regime forces fought pitched battles Sunday with insurgents as they inched closer to a extremist-run town in the northwestern province of Idlib, a war monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “fierce clashes” between loyalist forces, militants and allied rebels were taking place one kilometer (0.6 miles) west of Khan Sheikhun.
The latest fighting broke out overnight Saturday to Sunday and has already killed 26 extremists and allied rebels and 11 members of the pro-regime forces, the war monitor said.
The town of Khan Sheikhun lies on a key highway coveted by the regime.
The road runs through Idlib, connecting government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, which was retaken by loyalists from rebels in December 2016.
Pro-regime forces are deployed around three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the road and have been advancing over the past few days in a bid to encircle Khan Sheikhun from the north and the west and seize the highway.
On Sunday they retook the village of Tel Al-Nar and nearby farmland northwest of Khan Sheikhun “and were moving close to the highway,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
But their advance from the east was being slowed down due to “a ferocious resistance” from militants and allied rebels.
Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of the neighboring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.
A buffer zone deal brokered by Russia and Turkey last year was supposed to protect the Idlib region’s three million inhabitants from an all-out regime offensive, but it was never fully implemented.
Regime and Russian air strikes and shelling since late April have killed more than 860 civilians, according to the Observatory, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
On Sunday air strikes by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia killed two people, including a child, in the south of Idlib, the Observatory said.
More than 1,370 insurgents and over 1,200 pro-regime forces have been killed since April, according to the monitor.
The violence has displaced more than 400,000 people, the United Nations says.
“Many of these people have been displaced up to five times,” the UN’s regional spokesman for the Syria crisis, David Swanson, told AFP on Saturday.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad since starting with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.