MP Zarazir ends bank sit-in after taking money for surgery
A Lebanese lawmaker entered a bank branch unarmed on Wednesday with two of her lawyers to free trapped dollar deposits she needs to pay for surgery, her lawyer said.
Cynthia Zarazir, who was elected to parliament in May polls, is the latest in a growing number of angry depositors who are forcing Lebanese lenders to unlock savings trapped under informal capital controls imposed amid an unprecedented financial crisis.
Zarazir entered the Antelias branch of Byblos Bank at around 9 am to demand $8,500 to pay for surgery costs not covered by her health insurance, her lawyer Fouad Debs said from inside the bank.
"We will not leave until we get the money," Debs told AFP, nearly three hours after they entered the branch.
"I am a Lebanese citizen demanding my rights in light of this exceptional situation," Zarazir told the press and bystanders.
The lawyer Debs, who is also a member of legal and advocacy group the Depositors' Union, told The Associated Press that negotiations are ongoing, and that Zarazir has rejected a "ridiculous" proposal to withdraw her savings in Lebanese pounds at a fraction of its dollar value.
Hours later, Zarazir left the bank after managing to take the amount of money needed to cover surgical fees not covered by her insurance policy. She however described the solution reached as "unfair" and "arbitrary," without revealing the exact amount of money that she received.
Debs, who alongside the Depositors' Union has tried to help depositors unlock their trapped savings, said that the situation is no longer bearable and that Lebanon needs to reform its economy to become viable again.
"What we want is a collective solution which would be through a recovery plan that's fair, comprehensive, transparent, and includes the restructuring of the banks and public debt," Debs told the AP, adding that the politicians and bankers should be held accountable for the crisis.
Several activists gathered outside the bank to support Zarazir, whose plight echoes that of the many Lebanese who have been locked out of their savings by bank restrictions that have gradually tightened since the start of the financial crash in 2019.
Also on Wednesday, a retired member of the Internal Security Forces stormed Credit Libanais bank in Haret Hreik to demand access to $48,000 in dollar savings as well as 270 million Lebanese pounds from his pension.
He was unarmed.
"After negotiations with the bank's management, he managed to get all his Lebanese pound deposits and $3,000" in trapped dollar savings, said Ibrahim Abdullah, a spokesman for the Depositors Union advocacy group.
And in Jbeil, a man fired an assault rifle at the glass facade of Bank of Beirut, after employees did not let him in without an appointment.
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters scuffled with riot police near the Central Bank's headquarters in Beirut's Hamra district.
"We came to claim our rights," said protester Houssam Machmouchi, 42.
"We are not beggars, we just want our money."
On Tuesday, a retired diplomat and honorary consul of Ireland, Georges Siam, carried out an all-day sit-in at a bank in Hazmieh to recover his savings before eventually reaching a compromise.
Almost simultaneously, at least two other armed bank heists took place in separate branches.
They included one by a retired policeman who held up a bank in east Lebanon to demand a money transfer to his son in Ukraine to help pay for rent and university tuition.
Lebanon’s banks had closed for a week after a series of heists on September 16.
They have since reopened amid tight security.