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Lebanon to shut banks after string of raids by people taking out life savings

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ebanese banks are closing for three days after a string of raids by people demanding their trapped life savings left authorities scrambling.

The most raids in a single day were carried out on Friday, raising fears that more desperate people would try to take their money by force amid an economic meltdown.

The break-ins reflect public anger at the banks’ strict informal controls on cash withdrawals, as a result of the financial crisis there.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon said all branches would close for three days, starting on Monday.

But it’s not clear how authorities will be able to prevent a further wave of break-ins.

Since the economic decline began three years ago, depositors with US dollars have mostly been able to withdraw money in Lebanese pounds at a much lower rate than the real value.

The losses are one of the factors that have pushed nearly three quarters of Lebanese into poverty and driven up crime. Some desperate depositors have resorted to force.

“My brother has lots of money trapped inside,” Ayman Soubra told the Associated Press. His brother, Abed, stormed a branch of BLOM Bank in Beirut’s neighborhood of Tareek Jadeedeh.

MR Soubra said his brother had been asking for his deposits for days but was rejected. Hours after Abed Soubra stormed the bank, negotiations were still ongoing between him and bank officials to pay him some of his money.

Abed Soubra

/ AFP via Getty Images

He told a local TV station that he wants $40,000 (£35,000) in cash. He said he had a pistol that he later handed over to a police officer.Abed Soubra later spoke to reporters inside the bank. His arm was bandaged but he didn’t say what caused the injury.

He said the bank refused to honor an earlier offer of payout and he warned he would come back again and try to get his money by force.

In another Beirut neighborhood, a man with a hunting rifle stormed the branch of LGB Bank and demanded his deposit. The man was identified as Jawad Sleem, a former contractor and a father of seven, who has been jobless for months.

Sleem surrendered to security forces on Friday evening, after he was promised $15,000 in cash (£13,000) and $35,000 (£30,000) in checks that he can deposit in another bank and withdraw, at a lower than official exchange rate.In a southern Beirut suburb, Mohammed al-Moussawi told the local Al-Jadeed TV that he stormed a branch of Banque Libano-Francaise and got $20,000 (£17,000) of his money.

Man arrested after a hold up at a LGB Bank in Beruit

/ AFP via Getty Images

He added that he used a toy pistol to threaten bank employees who gave him his money, adding that he is ready to surrender to authorities.And in a town south of Beirut, a depositor demanded that his money be transferred to Turkey.

The man was later detained, after leaving the bank, and it was not immediately clear if a deal was reached.

A protest group that calls itself Depositors’ Outcry told a news conference on Thursday that there would be more break-ins. “This is a battle to liberate deposits,” the group said in a statement.

Banks had been criticized for years for making risky investments despite Lebanon’s widely known corruption. On Friday, the Lebanese pound hit a new low, to 38,400 pounds against the US dollar.

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