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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Lebanon civil servants on strike amid wage hike crisis

As the strike entered its second day, the government met to discuss new taxes to fund the wage bill, estimated at US$800 million (Dh2.9bn)

A protester holds up a placard during a rally in front of the government building in downtown Beirut on September 26, 2017. Lebanon's civil servants are on strike to pressure the government to pay them recently approved wage hikes amid a new crisis over how to finance the bill. Bilal Hussein / AP
A protester holds up a placard during a rally in front of the government building in downtown Beirut on September 26, 2017. Lebanon's civil servants are on strike to pressure the government to pay them recently approved wage hikes amid a new crisis over how to finance the bill. Bilal Hussein / AP

Lebanon's civil servants were striking for a second day on Tuesday to pressure the government to pay them recently approved wage hikes amid a new crisis over how to finance them.

It came as the government met to discuss new taxes to fund the wage bill, estimated at US$800 million (Dh2.9bn). Discussions were postponed until Thursday, however, with no decision made.

Information minister Melhem Riachy said a government meeting on Tuesday had achieved "very great progress" and hoped the next meeting, chaired by president Michel Aoun, would decide on a new draft law.

The law raising the wages, which had been in the works for years, was passed earlier this summer. But the Constitutional Council earlier this week revoked a tax law to finance the bill, saying it violated the constitution.

The reasons it gave for this included the government's failure to approve tax hikes included in the law as part of a budget.

The decision left the government scrambling for ways to finance the wage bill, amid pressure from public servants who expected their new salaries this month.

Government offices were shut on Tuesday, and hundreds of civil servants protested outside.

One poster simply read: "The dignity strike."

Lebanon has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 148 per cent, one of the highest in the world, and officials say there is no alternative to taxation to finance the pay rise.

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