Wild, Wild East
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Lebanese banks will remain closed “indefinitely” following a string of heists and robberies by angry bank customers trying to access their blocked savings, the Financial Times reported.
The country’s banking association said Thursday that the financial institutions would stay shut “in the absence of assurances” from the state about their security. They lamented that the decision stems from “the continued risks to bank employees and customers inside branches, and in light of the ongoing atmosphere of incitement.”
Last week, banks across the country temporarily shuttered after a spree of heists at seven bank branches. Lebanon is in the midst of a three-year financial crisis that has left many Lebanese in desperation.
At a time when three-quarters of the population is impoverished, the banking sector has frozen deposits for more than two years and placed limits on how much money can be withdrawn.
In August, a man made national headlines after he held up a Federal Bank branch and withdrew $35,000 of his own money. He was not charged with a crime and received public support.
Since then, many disgruntled customers and depositors have stormed branches brandishing guns – both real and fake – and demanded tellers hand over their money held by the bank. Five robberies took place last Friday alone.
Authorities and bank representatives have decried the hold-ups. Activists and depositors, on the other hand, contended that banks and stockholders have benefitted from the crisis and are prioritizing the banks over their clients, who have lost their savings.
The closures and ongoing economic meltdown come as Lebanon’s fractious political parties have failed to create a government four months after parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has been holding talks with the International Monetary Fund over a $3 billion rescue package but negotiations have made little progress.