Protesters stormed a bank in the Downtown district of Beirut yesterday and staged a sit-in, demanding the institution return their savings which have been trapped since late last year, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported.
Hundreds of thousands of bank account holders have been unable to access their entire savings since November, when the country’s financial institutions imposed informal restrictions, limiting withdrawals to meagre weekly sums.
Banks unofficially introduced the restrictions to prevent capital flight and protect foreign currency reserves after anti-government protests broke out in October, amid a worsening economic and financial crisis.
In the months since, banks have frequently been targeted by protesters as a symbol of the crisis-ridden country’s problems.
In April, several bank branches across the country were torched or attacked with Molotov cocktails as anger at the financial institutions bubbled over.
Yesterday’s demonstration targeted the general headquarters of Bank Audi, according to a report by Al Arabiya, with protesters reportedly telling local television channel MTV, they were customers of the bank.
The unidentified protester told MTV the group had “come here to deliver a message to managerial boards of all banks”, but that demonstrators had not forced their way into the bank’s offices.
“Bank Audi is not the target [itself]”, the protester added. “Rather, we are addressing the whole corrupt banking system [in Lebanon] that hasn’t responded to enquiries of clients and depositors or explained to them the fate of their deposits and savings since February 2020”.
He later said protesters could no longer wait for the banks to respond to their queries but had to take action.
Lebanon’s economic situation has worsened rapidly in recent weeks, in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion, which left 200 dead, 6,500 injured and hundreds of thousands more with damaged or destroyed homes.
The crisis-ridden state is also grappling with a snowballing outbreak of the novel coronavirus, rapidly rising poverty and a wave of attempted sea migrations by Lebanese and Syrians desperate to seek a better life in Europe.
Moreover, Lebanon is currently without a government. Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down on Saturday after weeks of talks failed to produce a workable cabinet. While, former-Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned in August, in the wake of the Beirut blast.
French President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to incentivise government talks by offering significant, and much needed, aid to a reformist cabinet, though the scheme has so far been unsuccessful.