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Protesters storm bank in downtown Beirut, demand money back amid economic crisis

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Protesters stormed a bank on Wednesday in downtown Beirut to demand that their money, which has been holed up for months, be given back to them, Lebanon’s National News Agency reports.

Bank clients and depositors have not been able to access money in their accounts, and the ongoing economic crisis continues to deepen after the October 17 Revolution broke out last year.

Some of the protesters were Bank Audi customers who joined the group of demonstrators to demand that their accounts and deposits be released.

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One of the protesters, shown on a live broadcast on Lebanese network MTV, denied that the demonstrators invaded or stormed into the bank.

He said that he and his co-demonstrators entered the general headquarters of Bank Audi with a message to deliver.

“We’ve come here to deliver a message to managerial boards of all banks … Bank Audi is not the target [itself] but rather we are addressing the whole corrupt banking system [in Lebanon] that hasn’t responded to enquiries of clients and depositors or explained to them the fate of their deposits and savings since February 2020,” the unnamed demonstrator told MTV’s anchor.

He said that banks have failed to attend to clients’ enquiries, alleging that they’ve been waiting for the Lebanese central bank’s clarification about the fate of their deposits and savings.

Protestors have come here to complain and explain that they cannot wait for clarifications from this “corrupt and ineffective” banking system that demonstrators have been fighting against, he said.

Since late 2019, Lebanon's economy, which is heavily reliant on dollars to pay for imports, has deteriorated as dollars in the country have dried up. In an attempt to keep greenbacks in the country, the banks have applied a series of informal, and illegal, capital controls that prevent Lebanese from accessing the money in their accounts.

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In previous months, protestors have torched banks and carried out Molotov attacks on banks across the country as they have become a symbol of the country's strife.

Another demonstrator, who presented his Bank Audi card to the presenter, was quoted as saying that they haven’t been tucked or pushed by anyone to demonstrate.

“Audi and other banks have been alleging that there is no money and that the [banking system] has lent money to the Lebanese state … why don’t you [banks] give us properties, lands or cars against our deposits and savings! Those who had $10,000, why don’t you grant them a car for instance against their lost deposits,” he said.

Lebanon's economic situation has only become direr in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion that left at least 190 dead, some 6,000 injured, and destroyed entire sections of the capital city.

Al Arabiya English contact one of the bank’s administrators who confirmed the incident and said: “The incident happened sometime around noon. Those protestors came in surprisingly and they had a message to the board. They demanded that their deposits be released or be allowed to access their savings.”

The administrator preferred not to be named due to the sensitivity and fact that he could lose his job.

A third demonstrator criticized banks’ failure to abide by the law and implement several court rulings, in which banks were ordered to release clients’ money at the official exchange rate of around 1,500 Lebanese lira to the dollar. Today, the rate on the parallel market can be seen above 7,000.

“Even when it comes to enforcing justice, they’ve been robbing us. When a parent of an overseas student comes to withdraw money the bank gives them only $200 at the black market’s rate and when they want to deposit cash, the bank deals with them based on the [official] rate,” said the third protestor.

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