Lebanon abandons $122 million plan to expand airport as military protests erupt

Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamieh announced Thursday that the government is scrapping its controversial plan to expand Beirut’s international airport, according to multiple Lebanese news reports. The reversal comes as military retirees have been protesting outside major banks over the crippling economic crisis.

Background: Last week, Hamieh announced a $122 million deal with Irish company daa International to build a new terminal at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. The announcement was made during a ceremony in Beirut attended by Irish Minister of State James Browne. The airport has not been renovated since 1998 and Hamieh said the project would create more than 2,500 new jobs.

The lack of a public tender process has been criticized by many Lebanese, and the contract appears to have been awarded to a foreign contractor before Lebanese firms had a chance to bid.

Naharnet reported that Hamieh made the decision following a “request” from the Lebanese Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah. Christian Kataeb’s party said Hamieh canceled the project after his member of parliament Salim Sayegh established a parliamentary commission to investigate the deal, according to the official National News Agency.

Why it’s important: The sudden cancellation of the plan is the latest sign of government incompetence in crisis-hit Lebanon. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Najib Mikati revealed his controversial decision to postpone daylight saving time, which led to the simultaneous existence of two time zones across Lebanon.

More information: Military pensioners protested outside Lebanon’s central bank on Thursday demanding higher pensions, according to local reports. Retired soldiers also tried to storm the government headquarters last week demanding higher pensions.

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