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Lebanese MP demands trapped bank savings

BEIRUT — A Lebanese parliamentarian walked into a bank branch near Beirut on Wednesday, demanding part of her trapped savings to cover her medical expenses.

In recent weeks, cash-strapped Lebanon has seen an increase in depositors storming bank branches to forcibly withdraw their locked-in savings as the country’s economy continues to slump. On Tuesday, depositors stormed at least four banks, including two armies.

Cash-strapped Lebanese banks have imposed informal limits on cash withdrawals since late 2019. Since then, three-quarters of the population have plunged into poverty and the Lebanese pound has lost around 90% of its value against the dollar.

Beirut lawmaker Cynthia Zarazir walked into a Byblos Bank branch near the capital, demanding $8,500 from her savings to cover the cost of an operation.

Arrived with a lawyer, the reforming legislator has been negotiating for several hours with the management of the bank branch.

“I am a Lebanese citizen who claims my rights in light of this exceptional situation,” Zarazir told reporters and passers-by.

Her lawyer Fouad Debs, a member of the Union of Depositors’ legal and defense group, told The Associated Press that negotiations were ongoing and that she had rejected a “ridiculous” proposal to withdraw her savings in Lebanese pounds. at a fraction of its dollar value. .

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters clashed with riot police near the headquarters of the Central Bank in Beirut.

And in Byblos, a man fired an assault rifle at the glass front of a bank branch, after employees wouldn’t let him in without an appointment.

The general public hailed the bank robberies, with some even hailing the perpetrators as heroes. Among the most notable cases is Sally Hafez, who last month stormed a Beirut bank branch with a fake gun and a gas can to take away some $13,000 to fund her cancer treatment. 23 year old sister.

Meanwhile, the banks condemned the actions of angry depositors and said in a statement on Tuesday that the Lebanese government was mainly responsible for the crisis. Last month, banks closed for a week after at least seven banks were raided, and have since only partially reopened.

Debs, who alongside the Union of Depositors has been trying to help depositors unlock their blocked savings, said the situation was no longer bearable and Lebanon needed to reform its economy to become viable again.

“What we want is a collective solution that would go through a stimulus package that is fair, comprehensive, transparent and includes the restructuring of banks and public debt,” Debs told the AP, adding that politicians and bankers should be held responsible for the crisis.

Lebanon has been struggling for more than two years to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. The country’s government and divided parliament have blocked a dozen mandatory reforms since reaching an agreement in principle in April, including restructuring its banks, implementing formal capital controls and reforming its outdated bank secrecy laws. Both the United Nations and the IMF have criticized Lebanon for its slow progress.

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