Protesters in Beirut demand release of bank robbery detainees

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BEIRUT (TBEN) — Protesters clashed with Lebanese security forces outside the Justice Ministry in Beirut on Monday, demanding the release of two people arrested during a bank robbery last week.

The clash came as an International Monetary Fund delegation in Beirut held meetings with officials about the country’s economic collapse and the limited steps the government has taken to pull Lebanon out of the worst economic crisis in its modern history. The crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

The Lebanese government has implemented few of the IMF’s demands from a personnel-level agreement reached with the IMF in April. It lists five “key pillars” to be implemented, including financial sector restructuring, the implementation of tax reforms, the proposed restructuring of public external debt, the fight against corruption and the fight against money laundering.

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The agreement also demanded that the country’s 14 largest banks be held up by default from work on restructuring the sector, as they control about 80% of the market. The smaller banks that have problems must be taken over by larger lenders.

Anger at local lenders who have been imposing informal capital controls, including limits on ATM withdrawals, for nearly three years has grown in recent weeks, with some savers storming bank branches and forcibly removing their stalled savings.

Monday’s protest outside the Justice Department demanded the release of Abdul-Rahman Zakariya and Mohammed Rustom, who had been detained since Wednesday after breaking into a bank branch and helping a depositor retrieve her retained savings to pay for her sister’s cancer treatment.

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They joined Sali Hafez, who used a toy gun to demand $13,000 from her stalled savings account. Hafez, who is in hiding, has said she repeatedly visited the bank to ask for her money and was told she could only receive $200 a month in Lebanese pounds.

On Friday, savers, including one armed with a shotgun, broke into at least five banks to claim their stalled savings, the largest number of such incidents in a single day. The banks have closed all branches for three days from Monday for security reasons.

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At one point on Monday, dozens of protesters tried to storm the Justice Department before stopping after removing a metal fence. There are concerns that if the two men are not released, protests could increase.

In other parts of Beirut, protesters briefly closed several major roads in protest at deteriorating living conditions, including the almost non-existent state power, a crash in the Lebanese pounds and the rising poverty that has reached three-quarters of the population since the economic crisis began in October. 2019.

The Lebanese pound hit new lows, reaching £38,600 for the US dollar on Monday.