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

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Lebanese army soldiers hold a veteran during a protest against any cuts to their benefits in the state budget, at downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
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Veterans tussle with the Lebanese army and police during a protest over cuts to their pension service at downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
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Veterans tussle with the Lebanese army during a protest against any cuts to their benefits in the state budget, at downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
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Lebanese retired security personnel clash with police during a demonstration over feared pension cuts near the government's headquarters in the capital Beirut on July 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2019

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.


Iranian oil tanker pursued by US says it is going to Turkey

Updated 18 min 57 sec ago

Iranian oil tanker pursued by US says it is going to Turkey

  • The destination set in the ship’s Automatic Identification System is Mesrin, Turkey, but this might not be true
  • The US has a warrant in federal court to seize the ship and has been warning nations not to accept it

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An Iranian-flagged oil tanker pursued by the US amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington now lists its destination as a port in Turkey.
The crew of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, changed its listed destination in its Automatic Identification System to Mesrin, Turkey, early Saturday.
However, mariners can input any destination into the AIS, so Turkey may not be its true destination.
The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya’s position as just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Adrian Darya was held for weeks off Gibraltar after being seized by authorities there on suspicion of violating EU sanctions on Syria.
The US has a warrant in federal court to seize the ship and has been warning nations not to accept it.