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Feb 16, 2023, 2:48pm EST
Middle East

Why people are burning banks in Beirut

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The News

Dozens of protesters attacked banks in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut on Thursday as the currency hit a record low, amid a deepening economic crisis spurred by years of corruption.

At least six banks were targeted, Reuters reported, while two were set alight with flaming tires. Residents, frustrated with years of restrictions on cash withdrawals, also took to the streets to block roads.

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Know More

Lebanese banks have been closed for more than 10 days in what they’ve called an “open-ended strike” following a court ruling that granted two depositors access to their trapped funds.

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The lobbying body for Lebanon’s commercial banks, Association of Banks in Lebanon, had criticized the court ruling, saying that the banks could not afford to pay out everyone’s savings, and that the court’s decision was “detrimental” to the country’s depositors.

On Thursday, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon who has frequently blamed the U.S. for the country’s worsening economic crisis, threatened broader regional chaos.

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Step Back

Lebanon fell into an economic crisis in 2019 that has only worsened without a functioning government. The country has been without a president since October last year and has continually failed to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout program.

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For more than two years, Lebanese banks capped the withdrawal of U.S. dollars and Lebanese pounds without formally imposing this into law, and since then, the Lebanese pound has lost 98% of its value.

People in need of their money have therefore resorted to drawing funds through lawsuits or by force. Last September, a woman holding a toy gun, broke into BLOM bank in Beirut where she retrieved $13,000 of her savings.

The woman livestreamed her break-in on Facebook, saying “I did not break into the bank to kill anyone or set the place on fire. I am here to get my rights.”

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Last August, a man armed with a shotgun took several people hostage at a Beirut bank and threatened to set himself on fire unless he was allowed to withdraw his trapped savings to pay for his father’s medical bills.

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