Lebanese banks re-open for first time in two weeks

Lebanese banks opened on Friday for the first time in two weeks after protests that prompted the prime minister’s resignation,

An hour after doors opened, dozens people of people were waiting at some banks in Beirut and other cities, Reuters witnesses said. At others, fewer were waiting.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon praised the public for acting “responsibly”. The Lebanese pound strengthened against the dollar on a parallel market that has emerged in recent months, three dealers said.

The central bank had promised not to impose capital controls when banks re-opened, measures that could hamper the currency inflows and investment Lebanon badly needs to weather its worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.

Though no formal controls were imposed, banks were telling customers they could not transfer funds abroad unless they were for paying loans, education, health, family support or commercial commitments, a customer and banking sources said.

Customers also encountered new limits on the amount of dollars they could withdraw from U.S. dollar accounts.

One customer was told a letter would be needed from an overseas bank for a mortgage payment to be transferred abroad.

Another said he was charged $5 for withdrawing $1,000 from his dollar account with Blom Bank and was told the weekly withdrawal limit from the account had been capped at $2,500.

At two other banks, employees said customers seeking to withdraw a couple of thousand dollars would not encounter issues but those seeking to withdraw larger amounts would have to show it was for needs such as tuition or importing goods.

“The public is acting responsibly and in a civilized manner, and the sense of patriotism was clear in people’s desire to protect the national economy,” Salim Sfeir, the chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said in a statement.

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