- - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SAUDI ARABIA

Kingdom to increase wages for military

RIYADH | Saudi Arabia will raise wages for most of its army staff, a move that follows a surge in inflation and the kingdom’s first military engagement in almost 20 years against rebels in Yemen.

At about $41 billion, military expenditure accounted for about 33 percent of the budget of the world’s top oil exporter last year, according to the Finance Ministry’s website.

A weekly Cabinet meeting chaired by King Abdullah late Monday approved a proposal to raise wages for all soldiers as well as senior officers such as generals and lieutenants.

Defense Minister and Crown Prince Sultan did not attend the meeting.

The wage increase would be the second for the army since 2008, when Saudi Arabia offered state employees a 15 percent wage increase spread out over a three-year period.

The Cabinet did not say when the raise would take effect and what was its percentage. The Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Gen. Ibrahim al-Malek, declined to comment.

The desert kingdom does not provide statistics on its military forces. Diplomats estimate various corps of the Saudi army to number a total of 175,000.

The rise in wages is likely at least to match the 5.1 percent inflation rate of 2009, said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi.

WEST BANK

Abbas seeks mediation in Mideast talks

RAMALLAH | The Palestinian president says he will seek active U.S. mediation in negotiations with Israel resuming this week in Washington.

President Obama is hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first direct talks in nearly two years. Mr. Obama has said he hopes to see a peace agreement within a year.

Mr. Abbas told reporters accompanying him to Washington on Tuesday that the deadline is reasonable because many of the issues already have been discussed in previous rounds. However, Mr. Netanyahu has not agreed to pick up where negotiations left off.

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