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Lebanese protesters stage sit-in and demand access to cash at Beirut bank

The protesters forced bank staff to give them more than the weekly limit for withdrawal amid a wave of demonstrations at capital controls.

Protesters in Beirut (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Protesters in Beirut (AP/Bilal Hussein)

By Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press

Lebanese protesters have staged a sit-in inside a commercial bank in the capital city, Beirut.

The protesters forced bank staff to give them more than the weekly limit for withdrawal amid a wave of demonstrations against recent capital controls.

Amid a spiralling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal withdrawal limits of a maximum of £228 a week and totally halted transfers abroad.

Anti-government protesters, who largely blame the country’s dire economy on corrupt politicians, say the limits are illegal and have turned their fury against bank officials and the financial sector.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon advised the capital controls to manage depleting foreign currency. Lebanon’s economy depends heavily on US dollars.

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Banks have imposed capital controls, limiting withdrawals (AP/Bilal Hussein)

At least two dozen protesters sat on the floor of a branch of the Audi Bank in Beirut’s Achrafieh district on Monday, chanting against Lebanese banking policies.

They eventually forced the staff to cash a £3,800 cheque for one protester while two others withdrew £761 and £1,522 from their accounts. The protesters waved the money at the cameras in celebration.

Over recent weeks, the local currency has taken a nose dive, losing more than 30% of its value after over 20 years of being pegged to the dollar. Meanwhile, layoffs and salary cuts are becoming the norm while politicians have continued to bicker since late October over forming a new government.

An Audi bank spokesman was unable to confirm that the money was withdrawn and said bank staff called for security back-up because of the protesters’ “aggressive” action. The bank is the largest private bank in Lebanon.

After nationwide protests erupted on October 17 over Lebanon’s plummeting economy, banks closed down for two weeks fearing anger and panic from depositors. When they re-opened, at least one armed security guard was added to each branch, in addition to the regular private security.

A spokesman for the Lebanese banks association said the capital controls are only a temporary measure to deal with the country’s severe liquidity crunch. Georges Abi Saleh, director of communication for the association, said that there were strict orders to avoid clashing with depositors.

“The people are in a state of worry. We have to be understanding,” he said, adding that it is unlikely such scenarios would be repeated in over 1,100 bank branches around Lebanon.

PA

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