Lebanon banks ‘trapping’ state salaries: minister

An Anti-government protester climbs down from a security barrier as dozens chant slogans outside of the central bank Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
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Updated 24 December 2019

Lebanon banks ‘trapping’ state salaries: minister

  • “What is happening in some Lebanese banks is unacceptable,” Lebanon’s caretaker finance minister
  • A liquidity crunch has pushed Lebanese banks to impose capital controls on dollar accounts

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker finance minister accused the country’s banks on Tuesday of “trapping” civil servants’ salaries with withdrawal limits that have fueled public anger in the crisis-stricken country.
“What is happening in some Lebanese banks is unacceptable,” Ali Hassan Khalil wrote on Twitter.
“They are trapping the salaries of (state) employees that are transferred by the finance ministry every month.”
Rocked by two months of anti-government protests and a political deadlock, Lebanon is also facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
A liquidity crunch has pushed Lebanese banks to impose capital controls on dollar accounts, capping withdrawals at around $1,000 a month. Some have imposed even tighter restrictions.
Some have also capped weekly withdrawals of the Lebanese pound at one million — the equivalent of $660 at official rates — even as the currency has plunged by nearly a third against the dollar on the black market in recent weeks.
The tightening controls have prompted public uproar, with many accusing banks of robbing them of their savings.
On Tuesday, Khalil said it was a “sacred right” of civil servants to be paid in full and on time.
“It is not permissible for this right to be violated,” he said, vowing legal action to ensure public servants can access their salaries in full.
At banks in the northern city of Tripoli, tensions soared Tuesday as clients struggled to withdraw their salaries, said an AFP correspondent there.
A fight broke out in a branch near the city’s main protest camp after the bank refused to let a customer withdraw dollars.
An anti-government street movement has rocked the small Mediterranean country since October 17.
Bowing to popular pressure, the government resigned two weeks into demonstrations.
Since then, a potential default on Lebanon’s huge public debt has heightened the economic and political crisis.
The faltering economy has pushed many companies into bankruptcy, while others have laid off staff and slashed salaries.
A recession of more than 0.2 percent is expected for this year, the World Bank says.
In its first step toward forming an urgently-needed government, President Michel Aoun last week designated engineering professor Hassan Diab as the country’s next prime minister, replacing Saad Hariri who quit in late October in the face of mass protests.
Diab, a self-styled technocrat, has vowed to form a cabinet of independent experts within six weeks.


Iran breaks its record for most new coronavirus cases in one day

Updated 16 min 38 sec ago

Iran breaks its record for most new coronavirus cases in one day

  • Iran, which emerged early on as an epicenter of the virus, has seen its worst wave of deaths from the illness in recent weeks
TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday reported its highest single-day toll of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic with more than 5,000 new infections, as the country struggles to cope with a surge in transmission.
Iran’s health ministry also reported that 322 people had died from the virus, pushing the death toll over 31,000. The new infection count on Tuesday eclipsed the previous high of 4,830 last week, shining a light on the nation’s floundering efforts to combat the virus.
Iran, which emerged early on as an epicenter of the virus, has seen its worst wave of deaths from the illness in recent weeks. Monday’s death toll shattered its previous single-day record, prompting state news outlets to declare it a “black day.”
Hospitals in the hard-hit capital of Tehran are overflowing. Last week, health officials announced that the city had run out of intensive care beds for virus patients.
The increase comes after Iranians packed cafes and restaurants at vacation spots during recent national holidays, and after schools reopened for in-person instruction last month.
The government has resisted a total lockdown because it does not want to further weaken an economy already devastated by unprecedented US sanctions. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after withdrawing in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers.
With the death toll skyrocketing, authorities are now starting to impose more restrictions. The government closed museums, libraries, beauty salons, schools and universities in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.