Lebanese depositors smash up, burn Beirut banks as pound hits new record low

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Several dozen Lebanese protesters smashed up and set fire to commercial banks in a Beirut neighborhood on Thursday, while blocking roads protesting against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals in place for years and rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.

At least six banks had been targeted as the Lebanese pound hit a new record low on Thursday, a spokesperson for Depositors Outcry, a lobby representing depositors with money stuck in the country’s banking sector, said.

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A bank in the Badaro neighborhood smoldered as firefighters sprayed water, while riot police stood nearby with shields.

Since 2019, Lebanese banks have imposed restrictions on withdrawals in US dollars and Lebanese pounds that were never formalized by law, leading depositors to seek access to their funds through lawsuits and often by force.

A firefighter walks past a burnt Fransabank branch that was set on fire during a protest organized by Depositors' Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors, against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals and deteriorating economic conditions in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2023. (Reuters)
A firefighter walks past a burnt Fransabank branch that was set on fire during a protest organized by Depositors' Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors, against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals and deteriorating economic conditions in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2023. (Reuters)

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 98 percent of its value since the country’s financial sector imploded in 2019. It was changing hands at around 80,000 pounds per greenback on Thursday, dropping from 70,000 pounds just two days earlier.

The country’s central bank, which has struggled to manage the crisis, did not respond to a request for comment on why the pound had crashed and what it was doing to address the issue.

A view shows a burnt Bank Audi that was set on fire during a protest organized by Depositors’ Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors, against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals and deteriorating economic conditions in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2023. (Reuters)
A view shows a burnt Bank Audi that was set on fire during a protest organized by Depositors’ Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors, against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals and deteriorating economic conditions in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2023. (Reuters)

The office of Lebanon’s prime minister said work was ongoing to remedy financial conditions in the country.

Lebanon made a first step towards securing an International Monetary Fund bailout in April 2022 but, nearly a year later, has failed to carry out the reforms needed to finalize it.

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