A demonstration by around three hundred retired military personnel in front of Parliament and the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut on Thursday was marked by several episodes of tension, in conjunction with a cabinet meeting, as reported by L'Orient Today's journalist at the protest and the state-run National News Agency.
The armed forces veterans demanded an increase in their retirement benefits, which have been virtually wiped out by the depreciation of the Lebanese Lira, against a backdrop of socio-economic collapse.
In response to their protest and demands, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced an "exceptional" cabinet meeting to look at the issue on Saturday.
"I want to be considered as a human being. My salary is worthless. All I ask is to live in dignity," lamented a former soldier who attended the demonstration.
As the cabinet meeting got underway in the late morning, tensions erupted around the Grand Serail between protesters and the security forces deployed there.
Protesters attempted to remove the barriers around the Serail, according to the NNA, and scuffles broke out with the security forces deployed.
During the clashes, tear gas was fired by the security forces, causing two cases of asphyxiation among the protesters. Two other demonstrators were also injured in the stampede of people, according to NNA.
According to L'Orient Today's correspondent in the North, retired soldiers from Akkar had arrived earlier to Beirut on specially chartered buses.
Present at the demonstration, Wissam Ahmadiyeh, regretted that "My salary is not even worth $100 ... How can I feed my children and pay for their education?" raged this father of four.
Also present at the protest was Chamel Roukoz, a former soldier and member of parliament who was close to the Free Patriotic Movement before distancing himself from the party. "These soldiers who are demonstrating today sacrificed themselves for their country during their careers. Now they're retired and they've lost all their rights, their pension (which has been worth nothing since the collapse of the pound), their medical cover and the right to send their children to school. When they should be living in dignity, they have no choice but to demonstrate to ensure their children's future," he lamented.
"We wonder why we've made so many sacrifices," protested Ahmad Hamdan. "Is it fair that we work from morning to night and still can't afford to feed our children? These MPs dare to enter Parliament while some are starving ... Their cleaning ladies are paid more than we are," he continued.
"My salary was worth $1,000 before the crisis. What I'm asking for is half that to be able to live with dignity," stressed Antoine Yammine, who also heads the Lebanese Army Martyrs and Wounded Committee.
'Exceptional' cabinet meeting
In response to the protest, Mikati said, after the cabinet meeting "We discussed an increase in the productivity allowance in the public sector and for army pensioners," adding that this issue was not on the agenda.
On this subject, it was decided that an "exceptional" cabinet meeting would be held on Saturday to discuss the demands of army veterans for a re-evaluation of their pensions.
The two-day deadline was given for a "more in-depth study" of the issue, after "draft proposals" had been circulated to ministers, according to Mikati. "I am well aware of the social situation of pensioners, but we are bound by spending ceilings," he added, although "some ministers have asked for a more equitable distribution of spending."
Reporting by Wael Taleb and Michel Hallak.