Lebanese lawmaker stages bank sit-in to free trapped savings

AFP , Wednesday 5 Oct 2022

A Lebanese lawmaker entered a bank branch unarmed on Wednesday with two of her lawyers to free trapped dollar deposits she needs to pay for surgery, her lawyer said.

Lebanese MP Cynthia Zarazir
Lebanese MP Cynthia Zarazir (L) is pictured inside Byblos Bank Antelias branch north of Beirut demanding access to her savings and refusing to leave the bank without her money, on October 5, 2022. AFP


Cynthia Zarazir, who was elected to parliament in May, is the latest in a growing number of angry depositors who are forcing Lebanese lenders to unlock savings trapped under informal capital controls imposed in the face of an unprecedented financial crisis.

Zarazir entered her bank branch in a northern suburb of Beirut at around 9 am (0600 GMT) to demand $8,500 to pay for surgery costs not covered by her health insurance, her lawyer Fouad Debs said from inside the bank.

"We will not leave until we get the money," Debs told AFP, nearly three hours after they entered the branch.

Several activists gathered outside the bank to support Zarazir, whose plight echos that of the many Lebanese who have been locked out of their savings by bank restrictions that have gradually tightened since the start of the financial crash in 2019.

Commercial lenders have effectively banned most foreign currency transfers or withdrawals, forcing depositors to withdraw their savings in the plummeting Lebanese pound which has lost more than 95 percent of its value against the dollar.

Also on Wednesday, a retired member of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces entered a bank in Beirut's southern suburbs to demand access to has savings, said the Depositors' Union advocacy group.

It was not immediately clear if he was armed.

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters gathered outside central bank headquarters in Beirut to demand access to their money amid a heavy troop deployment.

"We came to claim our rights," said protester Houssam Machmouchi, 42.

"We are not beggars, we just want our money."

On Tuesday, a retired diplomat and honorary consul of Ireland, Georges Siam, carried out an all-day sit-in at a bank in the suburbs of Beirut to recover his savings before eventually reaching a compromise.

Almost simultaneously, at least two other armed bank heists took place in separate branches.

They included one by a retired policeman who held up a bank in eastern Lebanon to demand a money transfer to his son in Ukraine to help pay for rent and university tuition.

Lebanon's banks closed for a week after a series of heists on September 16. They have since reopened amid tight security.

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