Lebanese military veterans protest nonpayment of demobbed soldiers

Former retired Lebanese soldiers stage a sit-in protest against government decision to cut medical aid and other benefits as part of austerity measures on Wednesday in Beirut. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 10 October 2019

Lebanese military veterans protest nonpayment of demobbed soldiers

  • The fight not only concerns retirees, but also soldiers on active duty, as huge cuts have been made in their salaries

BEIRUT: Large numbers of former Lebanese soldiers took to the streets early on Wednesday to demonstrate outside the Ministry of Finance’s VAT building in Beirut. 

The retired servicemen and women were protesting against the government’s austerity measures —  including cuts to medical aid and other benefits — and delays to end-of-service payments.

The protesters blocked the entrance to the building —  preventing some employees from entering, raised the Lebanese flag, and held Lebanese Army banners with the phrase “Loyal people have died, O soldier,” written on them.

Beshara, a retired soldier, carried the battery that regulates his heartbeat and said that he can only survive for a few hours without it, but that he took the risk of joining the demonstration to protest against nonpayment of his medical aid and his children’s school tuition fees.

Brig. Gen. Sami El-Rammah, a spokesman for the protesters, said the sit-in was staged to “protest arbitrary measures in paying the dues of retired soldiers, which are their right —  as prescribed by the army —  not a courtesy.

“The Ministry of Finance deals with pensioners by not paying their pensions and school aid, noting that the funds have already been listed,” he continued. “How can it make sense not to pay the salaries of pensioners who were demobilized over 9 months ago? How will these people live without salaries?”

He warned: “If officials continue this injustice, they will be surprised by our reaction.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Andre Abu Ma’shar stressed that it was a peaceful demonstration. “There will be no roads blocked nor tires set on fire,” he said. 

“The Lebanese people as a whole are suffering as the veterans are. The authorities’ performance is totally unacceptable.”  

Retired Brig. Gen. George Nader said, “Our fight not only concerns retirees, but also soldiers on active duty, as huge cuts have been made in their salaries.”

One female employee in the ministry tried to use her car to enter the building by force, resulting in a heated argument with protesters. 

Later, divisions emerged between the protesters themselves; some wanted to end the sit-in and some wanted to proceed to cut off the busy road between the Palace of Justice and the neighborhood of Ashrafyeh. A few protesters lay down in the middle of that road, but it was quickly reopened.  

In a placatory statement, the Ministry of Finance said that it fully understood the motives of retired soldiers as well as retired civil servants. 

When the 2019 budget was prepared, pensions were estimated at a total of L.L. 450 billion ($300 million), however after news emerged of the government’s intention to freeze early retirement, a huge number of soldiers and military employees filed for their end-of-service benefits, which resulted in extra expenses of L.L. 540 billion ($360 million).

This prompted the ministry to demand an amendment to the budget to provide additional credit to the unexpected increase in expenses, it claimed, adding that retirees “will soon receive their payments.”

According to the official website of the Lebanese Army Command, there are 56,000 personnel in active service, 54,000 of them in the army, 1,000 in the air force, and 1,000 in the navy.  

In 2018, the Lebanese army budget was estimated at $2.5 billion. However, the 2019 budget introduced major cuts, including items that are considered essential, such as fuel, covert action expenses, hardware, buildings, and more.

In Lebanon the retirement age is 58 for army officers and 52 for soldiers and regular army personnel. The low retirement age is considered necessary because of the physical and mental demands of their jobs, and the need to recruit young soldiers.

Lebanon is facing a mounting economic crisis due to a sharp decline in investments and income, an equally sharp increase in bankruptcy and unemployment, accusations of rampant corruption, and increasing uncertainty about the country’s future.

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.