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.


Tens of thousands of Sadr supporters pack Iraqi capital

Updated 27 November 2020

Tens of thousands of Sadr supporters pack Iraqi capital

  • Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands gathered shoulder-to-shoulder for noon Muslim prayers in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square
  • The Sadrist movement had called for protests to back the reform of what it says is Iraq’s corrupt state

BAGHDAD: Tens of thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr packed the streets of the Iraqi capital Friday in a show of force as preparations ramp up for June parliamentary elections.
Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands gathered shoulder-to-shoulder for noon Muslim prayers in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, spilling out into the surrounding streets.
The Sadrist movement had called for protests to back the reform of what it says is Iraq’s corrupt state, but its populist leader has also been making moves ahead of next year’s vote.
In a tweet this week, Sadr said he expected major wins for his party and would push for the next prime minister to be a member of the Sadrist movement for the first time.
Sadrists had already won big in the May 2018 vote with 54 of parliament’s 329 seats, granting him the biggest single bloc.
This summer, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi set June 2021 as the date for the next parliamentary elections — nearly a year ahead of schedule to fulfil a key demand of the youth-dominated protest movement that erupted across Iraq in October 2019.
They will take place under a new electoral law agreed by parliament that will see district sizes reduced and votes for individual candidates replacing list-based ballots.
Most observers expect a delay of at least a few months while political parties prepare the groundwork of their campaigns, but experts say the new system is likely to benefit Sadr and his candidates.
On Friday, Sadr supporters carried Iraq’s national tricolor and posters of the cleric, some of which evoked his past as a militia leader by depicting him in camouflage.
Volunteers dressed in light blue — the movement’s color — sprayed disinfectant from plastic tanks on their backs.
Sadr, who is very rarely seen in public, did not attend the rally.