37 injured as Lebanese protesters attack banks in downtown Beirut in response to financial measures

37 injured as Lebanese protesters attack banks in downtown Beirut in response to financial measures
Lebanese protesters have attacked banks in downtown Beirut in response to arbitrarily imposed restrictions on money withdrawal and transfers, as the country’s political and economic crises continue.
3 min read
15 January, 2020
Protesters smashed bank storefronts [Hussein Beydoun]

Hundreds of Lebanese protesters have attacked banks in the capital Beirut following clashes with security forces.

The storefronts of at least seven banks were smashed by masked protesters in Hamra Street in downtown Beirut on Tuesday night, with protesters also writing graffiti denouncing current financial policies.

Shops and restaurants in the street were left alone by protesters.

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Beirut, declaring a “Week of Anger”. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered outside the Lebanese Central Bank

Police said 59 people were detained, making it one of the largest wave of arrests since Lebanon's anti-government protest movement began on October 17 demanding a complete government overhaul.

Protesters fleeing the scene then headed to Hamra Street where they turned their anger on bank branches there, smashing their storefronts. Security forces responded by firing tear gas at the protesters as well as live rounds into the air.

Protesters threw stones and fireworks at the security forces and set garbage dumpsters on fire, also throwing tear gas canisters back at security forces.

The Lebanese civil defence said that it had treated some injured protesters and members of the security forces. The Red Cross announced on Wednesday that at least 37 people were injured.

"There is a lot of anger," an eyewitness giving her name as Alia told AFP in front of a damaged bank branch. "You have to go to the bank twice to withdraw just $200."

Anti-government protests began in Lebanon in October in response to government corruption and economic mismanagement, but there had been a lull in protests recently.

The October protests brought about the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri but politicians have failed to agree on a new government or economic rescue plan.

Lebanese banks have imposed strict controls on bank accounts, limiting dollar withdrawals and blocking transfers of money abroad, without any legal or constitutional warrant.

Public confidence in the banks has plummeted and they have been blamed for rising prices and economic chaos. Huge queues outside banks are reported daily.

“Everything we’re suffering from is because of the banks and the central bank’s policies. This is why there’s no longer any money, and prices are rising.” 21-year-old protester Ali told Reuters.

“They won’t give people their own money”, he added.

The Lebanese banking association says that people’s deposits are safe and the controls aim to safeguard the country’s financial assets.

On Wednesday, politicians condemned the night-time violence and called for legal action against the protesters. 

Former Prime Minister Hariri termed the rampage "unacceptable," while parliament speaker Nabih Berri suggested that the aim was to "destroy the country." 

But the UN envoy to Lebanon, Jan Kubis, blamed politicians for the turmoil. 

"Politicians, don’t blame the people, blame yourselves for this dangerous chaos," he said in a strongly-worded statement, accusing them of standing by and watching the economy "collapse".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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