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Lebanese depositors smash up and burn Beirut banks

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
A bank was set on fire, during a protest organised by Depositors' Outcry on February 16

Several dozen Lebanese protesters attacked banks in a Beirut neighbourhood 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.

A bank in the Badaro neighbourhood smouldered 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 formalised by law, leading depositors to seek access to their funds through lawsuits and often by force.

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 to the US dollar 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.

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 finalise it.