Protesters besiege Lebanon’s apex bank

A crowd of protesters gathered in front of Lebanon’s central bank, calling for the removal of capital controls that have prevented them from accessing their savings, and demanding accountability from the bank’s governor for the worsening economic situation. Demonstrators in the capital city of Beirut expressed frustration over the fact that politicians were able to transfer large sums of money abroad while ordinary citizens bore the brunt of the crisis.

Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, described the weariness and frustration of the Lebanese people, who have taken to the streets for four years in various protests. Many have lost hope of ever recovering their savings, and the economic hardships have forced many to consider leaving the country. The economic breakdown in Lebanon began to emerge in October 2019 when the central bank imposed capital controls, restricting withdrawals and limiting money transfers overseas.

In February, the central bank established a new official exchange rate of 15,000 pounds per US dollar, abandoning the decades-long pegged rate of just over 1,500 pounds. This official rate has put depositors at a significant disadvantage, as the Lebanese pound continues to plummet on the parallel market, where day-to-day transactions take place, reaching a record low of around 100,000 pounds to the dollar.

Protesters voiced their grievances, citing the urgent need for money to afford essential items such as medication, which has become increasingly unaffordable due to the lifting of medicine subsidies. They criticised the politicians for expecting the people to bear the consequences of their alleged corruption and accused them of profiting from the crisis while ordinary citizens suffered.

Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh, has denied reports of the country’s bankruptcy, despite estimated losses of $70 billion to the financial system. International arrest warrants have been issued for Salameh, but Lebanon has thus far refused to extradite him. Although banned from leaving the country, Salameh remains in his position at the bank. The country’s political situation adds to the challenges, with a caretaker government in place for over a year and no president for almost eight months, as lawmakers struggle to find consensus amid deep divisions.

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