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Lebanese banks to close for 3 days amid violent demands for deposits

Depositors sit outside an LGB Bank branch in Beirut. -- Reuters
Depositors sit outside an LGB Bank branch in Beirut. -- Reuters

BEIRUT: Chaos mounted at Lebanese banks on Friday after a string of hold-ups by desperate depositors led to the decision to close the financial institutions for three days.

The Lebanese Banking Association decided in an emergency meeting that banks will remain closed on September 19, 20 and 21, after denouncing the attacks by account holders seeking access to frozen funds.

Lebanon's interior minister was holding an emergency meeting on Friday for all security agencies to discuss the situation after five banks were stormed earlier in the day: two in capital Beirut, one on the city's outskirts and two in the south of the country.

The banks, which have applied strict withdrawal limits on foreign currency assets since 2019 amid a historic economic crisis, were raided by people demanding access to their deposits.

The curbs mean many depositors' savings are frozen, leaving most Lebanese struggling to make ends meet. Most Lebanese have deposits in banks in US dollars.

A man stormed a Lebanese bank inside the capital demanding his own money shortly after a man and his son earlier stormed a bank in south Lebanon and took some deposits from his savings.

"I will not leave until I get my deposits... I am a businessman and have employees to pay... I need my rights," Abed Soubra shouted from inside Blom bank in Tarek Jedideh to journalists standing outside.

He shouted that he cannot run his business if the bank is only giving him $200 per month from his deposits which are over $200,000.

Scenes of pandemonium played out outside the bank branch in the capital as people gathered to show support for Soubra, while people were shouting, "We need our rights."

"My brother is an honest man... not a thief. He needs his money to feed his family and carry on with his business," Ayman Soubra, the brother of the man inside the bank, told the media.

Earlier police detained an armed man who entered a bank south of Beirut demanding access to his deposits.

A Lebanese security source said the man and his son stormed a Byblos Bank branch in Ghazieh, around 40 kilometres south of Beirut.

"The depositor managed to obtain the amount of $19,200 from his deposits and hand it over to one person who was waiting for him outside the bank and then handed himself over to police," the source said.

Two days ago, a woman stormed a bank in Beirut with a dummy weapon. She managed to take some $13,000 from her own account. The money was to be used to treat her sister, who is suffering from cancer.

Another incident took place in south-eastern Beirut on the same day.

Last month, an armed man held several people in a bank hostage, demanding access to his frozen assets to pay for his father's hospital treatment.

The World Bank has described the crisis in Lebanon as among the most severe since the mid-1800s.

The Lebanese pound has lost 95 per cent of its value since the onset of the crisis. -- dpa

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