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Energy minister hits back at EDL protesters.

Summary: Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil Tuesday said the ministry could not and would not break the law to meet the demands of angry Electricite du Liban contract workers.

BEIRUT: Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil Tuesday said the ministry could not and would not break the law to meet the demands of angry Electricite du Liban contract workers. "We are following the law," Abi Khalil said, referring to Law 287, which limits the number of jobs available at EDL, when he spoke in a televised address after the Free Patriotic Movement's weekly bloc meeting.

The minister added that the protesting EDL workers' demands for employment classification were like "having a table for 10 people, while trying to fit 100 people on it."

Abi Khalil condemned the protests for their interference with the smooth running of the ministry.

Workers speaking to local TV stations said that their meeting with Abi Khalil, which is set for May 2, would decide the fate of their strike.

"We will keep our protests peaceful until the meeting, but we will not carry out any of our duties," one of the protesting workers said.

Another demanded "a decisive solution for the 1,400 workers."

Protesters Monday blocked the road to the ministry and set tires ablaze, preventing Abi Khalil from entering his office.

The road was reopened, protesters claimed, after the minister promised to meet with a delegation of them. But Abi Khalil refused to meet after he gained entry to his office. He denied granting an appointment since, according to a ministry statement, they had never asked for one.

Earlier this month, the workers blocked access to the customer service gate at EDL headquarters, warning of escalatory acts of protest.

The government has instituted a hiring freeze in a bid to reduce spending in public departments. But experts warn that the government will eventually be forced to replace EDL's ageing staff.

Also protesting government practices Tuesday were National Social Security Fund employees, who demonstrated against two articles in Lebanon's draft state budget that, they say, might destroy the state's insurance and pension fund.

Protesting NSSF employees rejected Articles 54 and 68 of the state budget, which would exempt government employees and business owners from paying their dues to the NSSF.

Protesters argued that the articles would destabilize the NSSF's finances, and would encourage employers to stop paying into the fund.

Meanwhile, truck drivers blocked the Dahr al-Baidar highway linking Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley and in south Beirut in a second day of protests against the government's decision to halt all quarry works across the country.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Apr 26, 2017
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