Lebanese protesters defy capital controls in sit-in

A Lebanese anti-government demonstrator yells slogans as she takes part in a rally in front of the central bank building in the capital Beirut on December 30, 2019.(AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2019

Lebanese protesters defy capital controls in sit-in

  • Lebanese banks have imposed informal withdrawal limits of a maximum $300 a week and totally halted transfers abroad
  • “We want the money,” the protesters chanted, a number of them clients of the bank

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters staged a sit-in inside a commercial bank in the capital Beirut on Monday, forcing tellers to give them more than the weekly limit for withdrawal amid a wave of protests against recent capital controls.
Amid a spiraling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal withdrawal limits of a maximum $300 a week and totally halted transfers abroad. Anti-government protesters, who largely blame the country’s dire economy on corrupt politicians, say the limits are illegal and have turned their ire against bank officials and the financial sector.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon advised the capital controls to manage depleting foreign currency. Lebanon’s economy depends heavily on US dollars.
At least two dozen protesters sat on the floor of a branch of the Audi Bank in Beirut’s Achrafieh district on Monday, chanting against Lebanese banking policies. They eventually forced the teller to cash a $5,000 check for one protester while two others withdrew $1,000 and $2,000 from their accounts. The protesters waved the money at the cameras in celebration.
“We want the money,” the protesters chanted, a number of them clients of the bank. They urged some of the customers in the bank to demand more of their money with the protesters’ support. At least one tried, but didn’t insist, said Roy Deeb, one of the protesters who cashed the $5,000 check.
“We stayed and insisted and under pressure, they gave the money,” Deeb said.

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Deeb said it is not legal for Lebanon’s bank association to enforce withdrawal limits without parliamentary or government approval.
Over recent weeks, the local currency has taken a nose dive, losing more than 30% of its value after over 20 years of being pegged to the dollar. Meanwhile, layoffs and salary cuts are becoming the norm while politicians have continued to bicker since late October over forming a new government.
An Audi bank spokesperson was unable to confirm that the money was withdrawn and said bank staff called for security back-up because of the protesters’ “aggressive” action. The bank is the largest private bank in Lebanon.
“They are not clients. They are communists,” the spokesperson told The Associated Press, declining to be identified in line with regulations. “They are calling for the fall of the banking system.”
The doors to the bank were briefly closed while protesters and clients were locked inside, Deeb said. He denied protesters used violence. Security at one point formed a line between the tellers and the protesters. The standoff ended peacefully by the branch’s regular closing time.
After nationwide protests erupted on Oct. 17 over Lebanon’s plummeting economy, banks closed down for two weeks fearing anger and panic from depositors. When they re-opened, at least one armed security guard was added to each branch, in addition to the regular private security.
A spokesman for the Lebanese banks association said the capital controls are only a temporary measure to deal with the country’s severe liquidity crunch. Georges Abi Saleh, director of communication for the association, said that there were strict orders to avoid clashing with depositors.
“The people are in a state of worry. We have to be understanding,” he said, adding that it is unlikely such scenarios would be repeated in over 1,100 bank branches around Lebanon.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

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Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”