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Desperate Clients Hold Up Lebanese Banks to Get Their Own Cash

Armed customers stormed at least five Lebanese banks on Friday to demand access to their own funds, which have been trapped by Lebanon’s worsening financial collapse.

Such holdups have become increasingly frequent as the country sinks deeper into an economic crisis that has led banks to impose strict limits on currency withdrawals to avoid collapse. The interior minister warned on Friday that the attacks were destroying order, but to many Lebanese, the desperate bandits have become folk heroes.

A series of holdups this week were carried out by mostly middle-class depositors carrying real and toy guns.

The Lebanese lira currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value since 2019, reaching a new low this week of about 38,000 to the dollar.

The banks have forced depositors with U.S. dollar accounts to withdraw their money in Lebanese pounds instead and at an exchange rate far below the market rate.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said a depositor stormed a BLOM bank in Beirut on Friday, holding several staff members and customers hostage.

Lebanon News, an online channel, identified the gunman as Abed Soubra. Mr. Soubra, speaking with an injured hand wrapped in bandages, said withdrawing his $50,000 U.S. in Lebanese currency would have cost him $35,000 at the bank’s exchange rate.

“That means they were going to rob me,” he said.

Also on Friday, a depositor armed with a rifle took bank employees and customers hostage at a branch of the Lebanon and Gulf Bank, according to Lebanon’s MTV News. It said that after several hours of negotiations, the bank agreed to release $15,000 to his brothers in exchange for the gunman’s turning himself in.

Abed Soubra was identified by Lebanon News, an online channel, as a depositor who stormed a BLOM bank in Beirut with a gun on Friday. He said if he withdrew his $50,000 in Lebanese currency, he would have lost $35,000 at the bank’s exchange rate.

The country’s interior minister, Bassam al-Mawlawi, held an emergency meeting of Lebanon’s security council and vaguely blamed instigators that he said were inciting depositors — possibly an allusion to one or more of the country’s many political factions or militias.

“This destroys public order and makes other depositors lose their rights,” he said.

The country’s banking association responded to the spate of attacks by saying it was closing banks for three days starting Monday.

Credit The New York Times

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