Lebanese protesters attack banks after parliament again fails to elect president

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Protesters vandalized the facades of several banks and set tires alight in a suburb about 8 km east of Beirut on Thursday, frustrated at being denied access to their money.

The attacks targeted branches of Bank Audi, Bank of Beirut and Byblos Bank in Sin El-Fil in Mount Lebanon Governorate. Soldiers and internal security forces were deployed at several banks in Beirut out of fear of similar attacks.

Other groups protested in front of Al-Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut, raising banners condemning any encroachment on their funds and accusing the judiciary of corruption.

They demanded the return of their money and called for central bank governor Riad Salameh, the association of banks and any other officials involved in corruption to be brought to account.

Joining the protesters was Issam Charafeddine, caretaker minister of the displaced, who represents the Lebanese Democratic Party led by Talal Arslan, an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The protests came just 24 hours after the Lebanese parliament failed to elect a president for the 12th time.

A political observer, who asked not to be named, said the protests on the streets of the predominantly Christian area had a political message.

“Protesting in front of bank branches aims to send a political message to pressure the opposition, which refuses Hezbollah’s candidate, Suleiman Frangieh, for the presidency,” he said.

Similar protests had happened after every voting session, he added.

Hassan Moghnieh, head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, said: “We refrained from taking to the streets to avoid being accused of being politically motivated.

“Today, I don’t know why this group, which belongs to another gathering of depositors, took to the streets. They consisted of no more than 50 or 60 people, while the number of depositors in Lebanon exceeds 2 million. Therefore, there are questions about the party that is mobilizing the street at a particular time, especially considering that no new directives have been issued by the central bank regarding the frozen deposits and the situation remains the same.”

Lebanon is currently experiencing intense polarization as political forces align themselves within two camps that resemble the previous March 8 and March 14 alliances.

Christian political forces with conflicting interests have come together to support a single candidate, Jihad Azour, in opposition to the candidate of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, also known as the Shiite duo.

Various parties compete based on the majority and minority formula.

Lawmaker Bilal Abdullah told Arab News: “What happened during the voting session took a more dangerous turn than a realignment between the March 8 and March 14 forces. It took on a sectarian dimension. What is needed is a change in direction and a return to serious dialogue among the MPs.

“The day after the voting session was limited to analyzing who voted for whom and who betrayed whom. The voting results contradicted what the political forces had anticipated.

“The upcoming period will be spent passing time while the presidential vacuum continues.”

The US State Department expressed its disappointment at the failure to elect a president.

“We are concerned that members of the parliament left the chamber to prevent further rounds of voting, to deny a quorum,” it said.

“We believe that Lebanon’s leaders and their elites must stop putting their own interests and ambitions above the people of their country.”

Although parliament is scheduled to hold a session on Monday, it is not to elect a president but will be a legislative session.

Abdullah said: “This step comes within the framework of legislating out of necessity. Parliament needs to pass a law proposal to open appropriations in the 2023 budget to pay public sector employees their salaries along with the aid, as the caretaker government is unable to approve this matter.”

The Ministry of Finance anticipated the issuance of the law by announcing the “disbursement of temporary aid for the military, equivalent to three salaries for the month of May, and for retired military and civilian personnel, equivalent to six salaries for the months of May and June. Aid will be transferred to employees in the public administration starting Friday,” he said.

The state’s inability to pay wages has sparked panic among public sector workers and the military over the past week.

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