BEIRUT — The Cry of the Depositors, an advocacy group defending depositors' rights and associated with previous actions against Lebanese banks, organized a sit-in in front of Banque du Liban in Beirut on Wednesday morning, with activists burning tires protesting the bank's actions to slash depositors' money, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Protesters threw rocks toward the central bank and demanded it cancels recent circulars aimed at deducting "more than 70 percent of the depositors’ money."
Caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine was reportedly present at the scene in support of the protestors.
BDL circulars have indirectly validated otherwise illegal banking restrictions imposed these past three years, while authorities have allowed de facto capital controls to be imposed in the absence of any law regulating these measures.
For instance, BDL Circular No. 151 allows the withdrawal of restricted dollars, known as "Lebanese dollars" or "lollars" at a rate higher than LL1,507.5, set at LL8,000 since last December, while Circular 161 authorizes banks to provide cash dollars to their customers — provided their account respond to a set of defined criteria — by converting funds from their accounts at BDL’s Sayrafa rate.
The Sayrafa rate is lower than that of the parallel market. On Wednesday, the Sayrafa rate was set at LL29,800 to the dollar, while the parallel market rate was LL39,200.
New bank holdup
Earlier in the day Wednesday, a man fired a machine gun at a Bank of Beirut branch in Jbeil, north of Beirut, after the bank reportedly denied him entry without a prior appointment. The man caused material damage to the bank and no injuries were reported, according to the NNA. Security forces arrived at the scene and launched an investigation.
Meanwhile, Forces of Change MP Cynthia Zarazir entered a Byblos bank branch in Antelias, Mount Lebanon unarmed on Wednesday morning to demand part of her blocked savings in order to pay for a surgery, the MP told L'Orient Today by phone.
On Monday, lawyer and activist Rami Ollaik, who is the founder of Mouttahidoun (Arabic for "United") told L'Orient Today that actions against several banks were planned for Tuesday in Mount Lebanon and the Bekaa. On Tuesday, depositors attempted to forcibly withdraw their funds from the Lebanese Bank for Commerce (BLC) in Chtaura, in the Bekaa; First National Bank (FNB) in Tripoli, North Lebanon; Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon (IBL) in Hazmieh, in the suburbs of Beirut; and Byblos Bank in Sour — only the first and last leading to successful withdrawals.
This succession of incidents is reminiscent of the series of holdups that took place in Lebanon last month, when seven bank holdups occurred between Sept. 14 and 16.