News ID: 261803
Published: 0311 GMT November 19, 2019

Protests delay Lebanese Parliament session after long recess

Protests delay Lebanese Parliament session after long recess
A girl has the national flag draped over her shoulders as riot police stand guard, during the ongoing anti-government protest, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 19, 2019.

Protesters prevented Lebanon’s Parliament from holding its first session in two months on Tuesday, escalating a wave of demonstrations against the country’s economic downturn.

Banks, however, reopened after a one-week closure, with police stationed at branches and banks applying restrictions on hard currency withdrawals and transfers abroad, Reuters reported.

Customers at some branches could only withdraw $300 although the banking association on Sunday had agreed a weekly cap of $1,000 on cash withdrawals from US dollar accounts.

The protests erupted on Oct. 17 and the political situation has been deadlocked since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, with no progress towards a deal on a new government.

They have been fueled by corruption among politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades and are blamed for leading the country into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

At the Parliament, gunfire was heard as several dozen protesters forced two SUVs with official number plates and tinted windows to turn back as they approached the building, Lebanese television showed.

The vehicles sped away after they were struck by demonstrators chanting “Out, out, out!”

Parliament later announced the session had been postponed indefinitely due to a lack of quorum.

The session’s agenda had included reelecting members of parliamentary committees and discussion of a controversial amnesty law that would lead to the release of hundreds of prisoners. Protesters were angry that the MPs were not tackling their demands for reform.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had already postponed the session last week due to security concerns.

Security forces had fanned out on Tuesday before dawn in central Beirut, shutting down roads around Parliament with barbed wire. Police scuffled with protesters who tried to remove a barbed wire barricade.

The economic crisis, rooted in years of government waste and corruption, has now filtered into the financial system where Lebanese have encountered dollar shortages and a weakening of the pegged pound. Banks had mostly been closed since the protests started.

While the weekly cap had been set at $1,000, three customers at Bank Audi were told they only able to withdraw a maximum of $300. Several customers at BankMed were told the cap was $400.

A banking source said the $1,000 figure had been set as a ceiling for withdrawals and for some customers it was less depending on the amount in their account.


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