Depositors, some armed, storm 3 Lebanese banks over withdrawal limits

BEIRUT, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Outraged depositors, at least two of them armed, stormed three commercial banks across Lebanon on Tuesday over withdrawal limits imposed on most clients throughout the country's financial meltdown.

Cases of bank hold-ups have been snowballing across Lebanon as the population grows exasperated over informal capital controls that banks have imposed since an economic downturn began in 2019.

On Tuesday morning, a Lebanese man armed with a pistol and a grenade entered the Chtaura branch of BLC Bank, demanding access to his $24,000 in savings, according to Depositors' Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors.

The group told Reuters in a statement that the man, identified as Ali al-Saheli, was himself in deep debt and also needed to wire money to his son, who was studying in Ukraine.

"He had been trying to sell his kidney," the statement said.

Security forces later entered the bank and arrested Saheli before he could access any money, the group said.

BLC had no immediate comment for Reuters.

Also on Tuesday, a group of people employed at a state power station in Lebanon's north stormed the First National Bank Branch in the port city of Tripoli, according to witnesses.

They were angry over delays in withdrawing their salaries and fees they were being charged for the process, said their union representative Talal Hajer from outside the bank.

In a third incident, an armed depositor took hostages at Byblos Bank in the southern city of Tyre, according to the Depositors' Association, another advocacy group.

It said he was carrying a pistol and demanding access to his savings amounting to $44,000.

There was no immediate comment from Byblos Bank.

On Monday, Lebanese depositor Zaher Khawaja and some associates managed to withdraw $11,750 from an account with more than $700,000 at the Haret Hreik branch of BLOM Bank.

BLOM said he was not armed and that it would investigate the incident.

Last month, a spree of similar incidents saw the country's banking association announce an approximately week-long closure. (Reporting by Maya Gebeily, Editing by William Maclean)