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retired Lebanese armymen who held a sit in at the entrance of Central Bank, blocked the entrance and a major street to force the Government not to enforce salary & pension cuts as part of the draft budget's debate Image Credit:

Beirut - Dozens of retired soldiers camped Sunday night at the Lebanese Central Bank’s entrance in a confrontational step as they fear having their pensions, salaries, and benefits slashed as the government debates a draft budget and attempts to reduce the financial deficit in the heavily indebted country.

Early Monday morning, more than a 100 retirees joined the retired servicemen. Later during the afternoon [5pm Dubai time] the retirees suspended their protest, and unblocked the entrance of the Central Bank, after a follow up meeting between a committee representing them and the Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Bou Saab.

Special army troops and members of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces were dispatched to the area to maintain security and to manage traffic as protesters blocked all the routes leading to the beginning Hamra Street.

Hamra Street and the Central Bank’s district are two main economic arteries in Beirut, especially at the start of the weel.

Retired Pilot Brigadier General Andre Abu Maashar told Gulf News: “We have decided to hold this sit-in because the political regime is trying to cut down our salaries and pensions and introduce reductions to the social and educational benefits that we get as retirees.”

On whether there are any current negotiations with the political regime, Abu Maashar said they have formed two committees to hold talks.

“One committee is meeting with the six retired army generals who became members of the parliament to discuss this issue. Another committee is meeting with defence minister Bou Saab and following up on our demands. Our demands are similar and in line with those of the six retired generals. The six MPs met earlier with the Lebanese President Michel Aoun and placed their demands under his trusteeship … we are likely requesting that the clause [regarding proposed salary and pension cuts] be removed from the draft budget debate,” he said.

As part of the negotiations, there’s a recommendation to form a committee from the Defence Ministry to study the retirees’ demands to safeguard their rights, preserve their pensions, and look into their case.

“It is unacceptable to just think of what type of economy Lebanon needs; rather we should also consider what type of security system cost we need in order to achieve a secure environment for investments. In case the negations fail, we will escalate and are heading to an open confrontation at all fronts and across the country,” he concluded.

Preferring to use his first name, retired Colonel Elias said there are fears the draft budget might include a proposal on salary cuts of up to 20 per cent for all public sector employees.

“If that is the case, then the confrontations will branch out to include all government employees against the regime. Eventually there will be a revolution and the government will be toppled. We are retired army men and part of the public sector employees and the Lebanese people … our demands are lawful and we are just seeking justice,” said Colonel Elias.

Around 1pm local time [2pm Dubai time] sources from the committee that attended Monday’s meeting with Bou Saab at the Defence Ministry said the feedback was positive, and that the minister had promised that all the retirees’ concerns will be considered.

The army retirees had been the most vocal in terms of protesting and calling on the government not to include any clauses that suggest salary and pension cuts in its draft budget.

However, towards the afternoon, protesters suspended their sit in at the Central Bank at about 4pm [5pm Dubai time] and Hamra Street was reopened for traffic. This was done in line with the wishes of Bou Saab and after they had received from him a positive feedback and a promise that their demands will be reviewed.

Last week, other public sector employees from Ogero Telecom and Central Bank and professors of the Lebanese University and other public departments held protests demanding the government not to impose salary and pension cuts.

Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced after Sunday’s meeting the level of public sector salaries in the draft budget was not discussed, rather the decisions were made on “significant cuts” in the budgets of government departments.