UAE boosts military pensions, seen pre-empting unrest

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 10:10 AM
UAE boosts military pensions, seen pre-empting unrest

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has ordered a 70 percent pension increase for military personnel, local media said on Wednesday, in a move that could stave off dissent in the Gulf Arab state as protests sweep the region.

The order by President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, released by state news agency WAM and published in newspapers, includes bonuses for ministry of defense and armed forces staff and is effective in March.

It appeared to be the latest in a string of moves by the world's No. 3 oil exporter to pre-empt unrest that has hit wealthy Gulf Arab states that considered themselves in the past immune to political strife.

Last week, the U.S. ally said it would hold its second-ever election to the advisory Federal National Council (FNC) in September, in a cautious step toward political reform in a federation run almost exclusively by its ruling families.

The FNC election in 2006 had 6,600 voters, including 1,160 women, and accounted for less than 1 percent of the population.

Earlier this month, the Gulf state launched a $1.6 billion infrastructure investment plan for the less developed northern emirates, which cut a sharp contrast to wealthy trade and tourism hubs like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Other measures unveiled recently include an agreement by supermarkets to cut prices for food and other essential goods by up to 40 percent in March, and the introduction of state subsidies for rice and bread from April to year-end to combat rising prices.

This is despite a per capita income of over $47,000, among the world's highest.

Sources told Reuters on Tuesday the UAE could also roll back plans to hike gasoline prices.

Gulf rulers have offered a range of social handouts to their populations in an effort to mollify them after uprisings that brought down heads of state in Tunisia and Egypt in January and February and sparked similar protests in the Arabian Peninsula.

Earlier this month, a group of UAE intellectuals petitioned their rulers for free elections, in a sign some Emiratis share growing Arab demands for a greater say in government.

There has been no sign of street protests in the UAE, where foreigners make up over 80 percent of the population of around 5 million. Neighboring Oman has offered pay rises and a promise of legislative powers for its own partially-elected council.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond, Martin Dokoupil and Amena Bakr; Editing by Sophie Hares)