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Lebanese lawmaker enters bank branch to demand frozen savings

| Updated: October 05, 2022 15:44:04


Cynthia Zarazir, a member of the Lebanese parliament who entered a Byblos bank branch seeking her own savings, according to a depositors' advocacy group, stands inside a bank in Antelias, Lebanon on October 5, 2022 — Reuters photo Cynthia Zarazir, a member of the Lebanese parliament who entered a Byblos bank branch seeking her own savings, according to a depositors' advocacy group, stands inside a bank in Antelias, Lebanon on October 5, 2022 — Reuters photo

A Lebanese member of parliament entered a branch of Byblos Bank north of Beirut on Wednesday with a group of associates to demand access to her frozen savings to pay for surgery.

Cynthia Zarazir, a first-time parliamentarian who was elected in May to represent Beirut, entered the bank unarmed and demanded $8,500 in cash, she told Reuters news agency.

"We've spent a few days going back and forth to the bank and bringing my (medical) reports and they don't answer us. I can't delay this any more. I came to take my money," Zarazir said by telephone from the bank.

"Today, I came as I don't care what my colleagues in the parliament will think. I see right from wrong," she said.

Cases of bank hold-ups and protests have snowballed across Lebanon recently as depositors have grown exasperated over informal capital controls that banks have imposed since an economic downturn began in 2019.

Depositors can only withdraw limited amounts in US dollars or the Lebanese pound, which has lost more than 95 per cent of its value since the crisis began.

The bank branch shut down after Zarazir entered and a spokesperson for Byblos Bank at its headquarters was not immediately available for comment.

Zarazir said she had rejected an offer from the bank to withdraw an unlimited amount in Lebanese pounds at a rate of 8,000 pounds to the dollar - which would represent a roughly 80% haircut on the value of her funds.

"She has not broken the law in any way. She went into her bank to ask for her money. She didn't even shut the bank down - the management did that," said Fouad Debs, her lawyer and a founder of the Depositors' Union advocacy group.

He accompanied Zarazir and spoke to Reuters from the bank, saying the sit-in would continue until the lawmaker had access to her funds.

Tuesday saw four hold-ups across Lebanon, two of them involving armed men demanding their deposits.

Another incident took place on Monday.

Separately, an unidentified assailant fired shots at a Beirut Bank branch in the northern town of Byblos on Wednesday, a security source said.

There were no injuries and the assailant fled, the source said.

Lebanon's banking association has expressed outrage over the hold-ups. A similar surge last month prompted banks to close for about a week.

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