Some Lebanon banks close over angry clients’ demands

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Banks in a region of northern Lebanon were closed until further notice on Saturday, the National News Agency said, after lenders balked at customer anger over a liquidity crisis.

Since September banks have arbitrarily capped the amount of dollars that can be withdrawn or transferred abroad, sparking fury among customers who accuse lenders of holding their money hostage.

There is also a limit on Lebanese pound withdrawals.

Clients wanting dollars often have to stand in queues for hours to make withdrawals, only to be told bills have run out once they reach the counter.

On Saturday all banks in the northern region of Akkar were closed, the NNA said, following a call from the Association of Banks for them to shut their doors “until further notice.”

On Friday, citizens entered a bank branch in the town of Halba to protest about customers being unable to withdraw enough dollars or their salaries in Lebanese pounds in full, NNA reported.

They said they would not leave until a customer - who suffered an unspecified health complaint while waiting - was given a guarantee that he would be paid in full.

The 10-hour standoff - which included security forces firing teargas inside the building - ended with the man being taken to hospital and management promising to pay him in full.

The Association of Banks the same day called for lenders in the area to close over the incident, which it described as an “attack” and “a threat to the lives and safety of employees.”

Unprecedented anti-government protests have gripped Lebanon since October 17, in part to decry a lack of action over the deepening economic crisis.

The Lebanese pound has been pegged to the dollar for more than two decades at 1,507 to the greenback, and both currencies are used in everyday interactions.

But with banks limiting dollar withdrawals, the rate on the unofficial market has topped 2,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar and the cost of living has increased.

In the southern city of Saida on Saturday, protesters moved trucks and a crane in front of a bank to force management to hand a man his dues in Lebanese pounds after he left his job, NNA said.

They removed the vehicles after the man was paid in full.

In the area of Bikfaya outside Beirut, people threw eggs at a bank building overnight and scrawled “revolution” on it, the same news agency said.

Tears and screaming have become common in banks in recent weeks as citizens accuse lenders of stealing their money.

Some have filed law suits against banks.

The head of the Bar Association Melhem Khalaf on Friday called on banks to lift restrictions on transfers and withdrawals, calling the measures “unconstitutional.”

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