Queues but no chaos as Lebanon's banks reopen after two weeks

Closure enforced by two weeks of anti-government protests that led to PM's resignation

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Lebanese queued to withdraw money as banks reopened on Friday after a two weeks of anti-government protests that paralysed the country, but the crowds expected after the extended closure did not materialise.

Customers at some bank branches in Beirut reported that they were operating normally, while at others customers found themselves waiting for dozens of people to be served before them.

Friday was the beginning of the month, when many employees go to banks to collect their salaries.

Although the central bank has not imposed capital controls, customers said banks were imposing limits on withdrawals in US dollars, which have long served as a second currency alongside the Lebanese pound. The limit varied from $2,000 and $2,500 at different banks.

ATM machines have continued to function throughout the crisis, although many of them stopped dispensing US dollars.

The Lebanese pound has been pegged to the dollar at an official rate of 1,507 to the dollar since 1997. Exchange shops are now trading at 1,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, a devaluation of more than 25 per cent.

The reopening of the banks follows Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation this week, a key demand of the protesters, who have blocked major roads and packed into public squares. Lebanese have been protesting since October 17, demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for the past three decades.

The protesters have directed much of their rage at the banks, and one of the most popular chants refers to central bank governor Riad Salameh as a "thief". On Friday, four protesters entered the Association of Banks in Lebanon and placed a chain on the gate, preventing people from entering or leaving the building.

"This is the house of corruption," one of the protesters told the local Al Jadeed TV, before police arrived and detained the three young men and a young woman.