Banks in Lebanon close their doors as protesters demand the release of detainees
Banks in Lebanon close their doors as protesters demand the release of detainees

Beirut: Lebanese banks began a three-day shutdown on Monday, following a decision by the union of banks to halt break-ins and depositor holdups.

It follows a string of high-profile incidents at bank branches, in which depositors attempt to withdraw US dollar savings that had been frozen for three years.

Bank break-ins in Beirut and other regions were described as "organised" by Acting Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi. The banks' union demanded that "necessary measures be taken" to ensure the safety of employees and customers and protect the rights of depositors.

On Monday, some bank central departments remained administratively operational, and the central bank's Sarafa forum remained unaffected by the strike. As a result of the country's political and security turmoil, the black market US dollar exchange rate has not risen as expected, to 38,350 Lebanese pounds.

When branches reopen, many banks intend to take strict self-protection measures, such as inspecting customers and accepting appointments only.

The president of the Lebanese Depository Association, Hassan Moghanieh, warned that "the strike will not solve the ongoing crisis." When work resumes next Thursday, banks may experience a new wave of holdups, indicating that the solution lies elsewhere."

On Monday morning, a group of activists attempted to break into the Justice Palace in Beirut to protest the detention of activists involved in a bank holdup. Families and activists were barred from entering the palace by the army.

The protesters shouted for the release of Mohammad Rustam and Abdul Rehman Zakaria, who were arrested for breaking into the Blom bank to aid depositor Sali Hafiz, who had earlier used a plastic gun to demand deposits for the treatment of his ailing sister. was used.

"The anger of the Lebanese citizens is enormous, and everyone is talking about the need for a revolution that keeps an eye on the entire ruling class," said political analyst Ali Hamadeh.

Recent events in the country – a rise in the dollar exchange rate, the lack of a cap on the rise of the dollar on the black market, and fears of a presidential vacuum have deeply concerned the Lebanese public.

The groups also demonstrated against poor living conditions, including power outages, by blocking roads in Beirut and other cities by burning dustbins and burning car tires.

“As long as the political class keeps a deaf ear to the sufferings of the depositors and citizens, no one can guarantee that some beneficiaries will not take advantage of the security situation that has become fragile as a result of the negative shocks of social and living reality. ,” said economic analyst Violet Bala.

"The political class, banks or depositors will not be benefited by going around in circles," Bala warned.

An IMF delegation arrived in Beirut on Monday and immediately began talks with Finance Minister Yousuf Khalil, bank officials and a group of experts. The delegation will also meet several politicians, bankers and economic representatives.

The Head of Mission of Lebanon at the IMF, Ernesto Ramírez-Rigo, leads the delegation.

He described his mission as "highly precise", with the main goal being "learning about Lebanon's actions under the senior staff-level agreement reached with the IMF".

"Its second goal is to encourage the Lebanese authorities to apply the terms of the agreement to reach future agreements."

According to financial observers, none of the terms of the April agreement with the IMF have been implemented. The President blocked the implementation of a bank secrecy law approved by Parliament.

In addition, the stalled recovery and rescue plan requires Parliament to approve the 2022 Budget, the Capital Control Act and the Bank Reconstruction Act.

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