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Depositors raid 4 Lebanese banks, demanding their own money

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BEIRUT – Lebanese depositors, including a retired police officer, raided at least four banks in the cash-strapped country on Tuesday after the banks ended a week-long closure and partially reopened.

As the small Mediterranean nation’s crippling economic crisis continues to worsen, a growing number of Lebanese depositors have chosen to storm banks and forcibly withdraw their trapped savings. Cash-strapped Lebanese banks have imposed informal limits on cash withdrawals. The raids reflect growing public anger at banks and authorities that have struggled to reform the country’s corrupt and battered economy.

Three-quarters of the population has been plunged into poverty in an economic crisis the World Bank describes as one of the worst in more than a century. Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value against the dollar, making it difficult for millions of people across the country to cope with soaring prices.

Ali al-Sahli, a retired officer who served in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, raided a BLC Bank branch in the eastern city of Chtaura, demanding $24,000 in trapped savings to transfer to his son, who owes rent and tuition in Ukraine. .

“Count the money, before one of you dies,” al-Sahli said in a video he recorded with one hand while waving a gun with the other.

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According to Depositors’ Outcry, a protest group, al-Sahli said she had offered to sell her kidney to finance her son’s expenses after the bank prevented her from transferring money for months. With his son months in rent and tuition in arrears, the retired officer reached out to the protest group for help.

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In the video he shot on his cellphone, al-Sahli waved a gun and threatened to shoot if bank employees didn’t comply. Employees struggled to calm him down, as depositors’ group protesters and bystanders watched from outside.

Al-Sahli was unable to recover any of his money and security forces arrested him.

In the southern city of Tyre, Ali Hodroj broke into a Byblos Bank branch and demanded around $40,000 of his trapped savings to pay off outstanding loans. He was holding a pistol and fired a warning shot as security forces surrounded the area. Hodroj recovered around $9,000 in Lebanese pounds, after negotiations, with the mediation of the head of a depositors’ advocacy group.

Hassan Moghnieh, head of the Depositors Association in Lebanon, told The Associated Press that Hodroj’s family recovered the money before it was handed over to police outside the branch.

In Hazmieh, near the Lebanese capital, the former Lebanese ambassador to Turkey, Georges Siam, entered the Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon demanding some of his blocked savings. The branch staff closed its doors while Siam continued to negotiate with management.

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And in the northern city of Tripoli, Qadisha Electricity Co. workers stormed a local First National Bank branch to protest banks deducting fees from their back pay. The Lebanese Army arrived at the site in Tripoli and patrolled the area.

Some depositors’ protest groups, including Depositors’ Outcry, have supported the thefts and vowed to continue to do so.

“We are sending a message to the banks that their security measures will not stop depositors, because all these depositors are fighting back,” Moussa Agassi, media coordinator for Depositors’ Outcry, told the AP. “We are trying to tell the bank owners to try to find a solution, and tightening security measures will not keep them safe.”

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The general public has praised the angry depositors, some even hailing them as heroes, most notably Sally Hafez, who broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake gun and a can of gasoline to take some $13,000 to fund treatment. against her 23-year-old sister’s cancer. Siam was among those who praised her. “We need more of that,” she said in a tweet last month. “The lady is a hero. God bless her.”

The banks, however, condemned the robberies and urged the Lebanese government to provide security personnel.

The Lebanese Banks Association in a statement on Tuesday said the government bears the main responsibility for the financial crisis and that the banks have been unfairly targeted. In the statement, the banks urged the government to quickly enact reforms and reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue program.

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In late September, the ABL closed for a week after at least seven depositors broke into branches and forcibly took their trapped savings that month, citing security concerns. Banks last week partially reopened a handful of branches, only welcoming business customers with appointments into their premises.

Meanwhile, Lebanon has been struggling to restructure its financial sector and economy in order to come to terms with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. The IMF has criticized Lebanese officials for their slow progress.

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