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Indian military veterans stage fast

India's military veterans stage protests nationwide to press for higher wages for defence personnel and warn the unrest could spill over into the serving ranks if New Delhi fails to act.

india Updated: May 27, 2008 22:56 IST

India's military veterans staged protests nationwide Tuesday to press for higher wages for defence personnel and warned the unrest could spill over into the serving ranks if New Delhi fails to act.

Ex-generals and retired soldiers staged a token day-long hunger strike near a World War II monument in New Delhi, part of the first such action by the military in India.

"We want to put the message across 'do not ignore us anymore,'" said retired major general Ugrasen Yadava, one of the leaders of the protests, which took place in about 300 cities.

"If this doesn't reach the government, then rest assured, there'll be trouble in the serving ranks," he said.

Enlisted soldiers in India, which has the world's fourth largest military force, are prohibited from taking part in demonstrations.

The protesters are not only demanding better retirement perks but also up to a 200 percent wage hike for non-ranking personnel.

Lower-ranked commanders are upset because they received a modest 15 percent pay rise in the 10-yearly salary revision for federal government workers, while civil servants were given hikes of up to 40 percent.

The military pay rises were generous by Western standards but did not match lavish private-sector salaries and excellent benefits.

More than 120 army, navy and air force middle-rung officers have sought early retirement after the government's Pay Commission submitted its report on the salary revision in late March.

The resignations have come at a bad time for the army, which is already facing a shortage of about 11,000 trained officers.

"Hundreds of other officers are now ready to hang up their uniforms but the military is refusing to discharge them from duty," said colonel Kumar Pratap Singh, co-ordinator of the national protests.