Hundreds of Lebanese protest feared pension cuts

Beirut (AFP) –


Hundreds of retired Lebanese security personnel protested Monday over feared pension cuts and tried to storm the government's headquarters in Beirut as ministers mulled an austerity budget inside.

For weeks, the government has been discussing budget cuts required to unlock $11 billion in aid pledged to the Mediterranean country in Paris last year.

Officials have hinted that army veterans and retired security officers may see cuts to their pensions and benefits as part of an impeding austerity package.

Budget talks were underway Monday as protesters scuffled with security forces after breaching a barbed-wire barricade erected outside the Grand Serail, the headquarters of the Lebanese premiership.

Security forces used water cannon in an attempt to disperse them, injuring one veteran, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Another pensioner tried to set himself on fire before he was stopped by other demonstrators, NNA said.

"They threaten our income and our benefits after we served our country for years," one pensioner said in a televised interview.

Another protester said he regretted the clash between the demonstrators and security forces.

"This is first time security forces confront (former) security forces," he said.

A delegation of pensioners entered the Grand Serail to meet Defence Minister Elias Abu Saab, who gave them "guarantees," according to a spokesman.

For his part, Bou Saab said many of the concerns relayed to him were based on rumours.

"Some of these issues are not being discussed anyway," he said, referring to protester's concerns.

The Lebanese economy has been hit hard in the wake of endless political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the 2011 breakout of war in neighbouring Syria.

The country has been racking up public debt since the end of its own civil war between 1975-1990, which now stands at 152 percent of gross domestic product, according to the finance ministry.