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Lebanon banks close branches after depositors’ incidents

The Association of Banks in Lebanon has announced the closure of all banks’ branches across Lebanon for three days after a series of depositors’ hold-ups demanding withdrawal of their savings.

The association said on Friday that the closure comes to protest the incidents by the depositors and the attacks that happened against the bank employees.

According to official statements, six incidents of hold-ups by depositors took place on Friday in different banks in Beirut.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called for an emergency meeting to discuss the measures that can be taken to address the banks’ storming incidents.

Lebanon has witnessed repeated incidents in the bank following their refusal to give clients their money in US dollars.

Friday’s raids were the most in a single day, and raised the possibility that more desperate depositors would try to extract their money by force. 

The break-ins reflect public anger at the banks’ strict informal controls on cash withdrawals, a byproduct of the financial crisis.

READ MORE: Woman robs bank in Lebanon to pay for ill sister’s treatment

“This is a battle to liberate deposits”

It was not immediately clear how banks or the authorities will be able to halt a possible wave of such break-ins. The depositors who have taken matters into their own hands have enjoyed widespread public sympathy, and have been treated with relative leniency by law enforcement.

On the other hand, a groundswell of bank break-ins could further destabilise Lebanon and its crumbling institutions, as the economic crisis drags on, with no end in sight.

A protest group that calls itself Depositors’ Outcry told a news conference on Thursday that there would be more break-ins. “This is a battle to liberate deposits,” the group said in a statement.

The attacks on three bank branches in Beirut and one in a southern coastal town came two days after a woman accompanied by activists and brandishing what she said was a toy pistol broke into a bank branch to take $13,000 from her trapped savings. She said the money would be used for her sister’s cancer treatment.

For more than two-and-a-half years, Lebanon’s banks have imposed restrictions on depositors’ money in foreign currency, especially the dollar, and set tight ceilings on withdrawing money in Lebanese pounds.

Lebanon has been grappling with a severe economic crisis since 2019, leaving most people locked out of their bank accounts.

The economic crisis had been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August 2020 that killed more than 200, injured thousands and caused damage worth billions of dollars. 

READ MORE: Another armed man storms Lebanon bank to withdraw frozen savings

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