A Lebanese woman held up a bank on Wednesday just to be able to withdraw her own money out of her account, starting a rising trend in the country as worsening economic and financial conditions have forced banks to adopt policies that prevent people from getting their savings.

Sali Hafiz, a woman in Beirut, reportedly went to a bank with a toy gun and accompanied by fellow activists, held the bank staff hostage, and threatened to set the bank on fire, unless she was able to receive her savings to pay her sister’s medical bills, according to al-Jazeera.

She ended up leaving with US$13,000 of her US$20,000 savings, and was reportedly not arrested by the police for the demonstration. Hafiz, a part of Depositors’ Outcry, have started these demonstrations and bank hold-ups in order to force the hand of the banks and government regarding their current financial policies, the BBC reported.

“These people worked for decades, but not for the rulers to build palaces while they can’t afford a bottle of medicine,” founder Alaa Khorchid said. “There is no government, no economic recovery plan, and little reserves left.”

The worsening economic conditions in Lebanon began in 2019, and has continued to escalate as the government failed to impose reforms on the economic system of the country, including a capital controls law. The Lebanon lira has reportedly plunged 95% of its value since 2019, and the banks have imposed limits on how much US dollar or Lebanon lira is allowed to be withdrawn from the banks, Reuters reported.

“Every time you want to withdraw money, it would be at a rate much lower than the market value,” reporter Zeina Khodr said. “For example, if you want to withdraw $700, they gave you $200. So that’s a de facto haircut.”

Copycats of Hafiz’s bank hold-up have occurred at least five times on Friday, including a man named Abed Soubra who demanded that his US$300,000 in savings be given to him by the bank, though he received no money in the end when he surrendered.

In response to the escalating crisis, Lebanon’s banks association has ordered the branches to be closed for three days this week as they urged the government to pass reforms to alleviate the crisis. The movement is popular with the general public, of which 80% were plunged into poverty over the escalating economic crisis.

“We're going to keep seeing this happen as long as people have money inside. What do you want them to do? They don't have another solution,” Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who attempted his own bank hold-up to get funds, said.

As Lebanon's economic crisis continues to worsen, an activist held up a bank on Wednesday in order to get her savings, prompting copycats as well as the closure of banks as the country attempts again to pass economic reforms. This is a representational image. Charbel Karam/Unsplash.

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