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Cash-strapped banks face Lebanese anger

Reuters/Beirut
Filed on January 15, 2020 | Last updated on January 15, 2020 at 10.40 pm
Lebanese, politicians, Cash-strapped, banks, economy
Protesters smash the window of a Bank of Beirut office as demonstrations against the government continue in Beirut, Lebanon.- Reuters

With banks tightly limiting access to cash, lenders were targeted in a night of violent protests in Beirut's Hamra district.

Lebanese politicians are watching on as the economy collapses and protests turn angry, a senior UN official said on Wednesday, rebuking a ruling elite that has failed to agree a government or rescue plan for a country in deep crisis.

With banks tightly limiting access to cash, lenders were targeted in a night of violent protests in Beirut's Hamra district. Bank facades and ATMs were smashed and dozens of people wounded in confrontations with police.

Political rivalries have obstructed a deal on a new cabinet as the crisis hits ordinary people: the Lebanese pound has lost around a half of its value while anger at banking controls have led to rows and violence in branches.

"Another day of confusion around the formation of a government, amidst the increasingly angry protests and free-falling economy," Jan Kubis, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, wrote on Twitter. "Politicians, don't blame the people, blame yourselves for this dangerous chaos."

Kubis appeared to credit Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, saying he had sought "extraordinary powers to at least somehow manage the economy while those responsible watch it collapsing".

"Incredible," he wrote.

Salameh asked for extra powers last week, saying he wanted to standardise the banking controls.

Looking to assure anxious depositors, parliament speaker Nabih Berri said work was underway to safeguard people's money, especially small depositors and those of expatriates, without specifying further.

The violence in Beirut's Hamra area was some of the worst since anti-government protests began in October. Security forces fired tear gas outside the central bank to disperse protesters who pelted them with stones and fireworks.

One man hurled a car battery at the glass facade of a bank as another hit it with a metal pole, Reuters TV footage showed. On Wednesday morning, glass was being swept up at one vandalised bank as workers tried to fix a broken ATM at another.



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