BEIRUT: Depositors scuffled and long lines formed at Lebanese banks Monday as they partially reopened after a week-long closure following a slew of heists by customers desperate to access their money. But most banks remained shut, welcoming only a handful of depositors on appointment, and there was anger from those seeking to withdraw frozen funds desperately needed to weather a crushing economic crisis.
At a closed Beirut branch of Fransabank, dozens of soldiers, internal security forces members and customers had queued for hours. “I don’t care about anything, I need my salary,” one ISF member yelled from behind the locked gates. Banks started imposing draconian restrictions on withdrawals after Lebanon’s economy collapsed in 2019. Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 95 percent of its market value, meaning public sector salaries have slumped to as low as $40 a month.
Earlier this month five banks were stormed in one day with depositors seeking to unlock frozen savings, after a string of similar holdups in past weeks. The Lebanese banks association said Sunday that banks will reopen in a limited capacity to businesses, educational institutions and hospitals. Many banks have also now hired security guards. ATMs will be available “for everyone else,” to allow public and private sector institutions to transfer salaries, they said. Georges Hajj of Lebanon’s bank employees union said that some branches did not reopen, but those that did increased security. “This week is a test to see how things will unfold,” he said.
In the southern city of Sidon, heavy security has been deployed at several banks, an AFP correspondent reported, after a security forces member tried to get into a BLOM bank branch by force to retrieve his salary. In the queue outside Fransabank, Yolla Sawan, a 67-year-old retired teacher, waited for her appointment, hoping to withdraw roughly $130 — her bank’s maximum monthly allowance.
“I don’t know what will happen (if I can’t withdraw),” she said in a soft voice. Near the bank, more servicemen and ordinary depositors queued in front of an ATM which was empty of any cash. One ISF member, who declined to give his name, said he had been waiting for two hours to withdraw his meagre salary. “I have nothing to say, I am drained,” he said. – AFP