Protest-hit Lebanon's banks to stay shut until calm returns

Banks in Lebanon will remain closed until stability is restored out of safety concerns, the banking association said on Thursday, as protests raged demanding the government resigns.

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BEIRUT, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Banks in Lebanon will remain closed until stability is restored out of safety concerns, the banking association said on Thursday, as protests raged demanding the government resigns.

President Michel Aoun said he was ready for dialogue with protesters, who blame the political elite for economic hardship and corruption. He suggested a government reshuffle was possible.

The rallies have gone on for a week despite the government announcing reforms to try and defuse them and win over Western donors.

Banks have shut their doors for six working days.

In a statement, carried on the state news agency, Lebanon's Association of Banks said they would remain closed on Friday to protect customers, employees and properties.

It urged a political solution to the crisis and "reassured citizens that the banks are ready to resume their work as soon as the situation stabilises." Bank operations will be limited to providing month-end wages via ATMs, the statement added.

The emergency reform plans announced this week include halving ministers' salaries and long-delayed steps to fix the finances of the state drowning in debt.

This has so far failed to appease discontent or prod Western donors to go ahead with pledged financing.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri also said the banking sector would shell out 5.1 trillion Lebanese pounds ($3.4 billion) to help cut the 2020 budget deficit, including through a tax hike on profits.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Eric Knecht; Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Cawthorne)

((eric.knecht@thomsonreuters.com;))

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