(Adds senior banker, quotes, details)
BEIRUT, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Banks in Lebanon will stay closed for safety reasons until stability returns, the banking association said on Thursday, as protesters flood the streets demanding the government resigns.
A senior banking official told Reuters he hoped the country’s political crisis would end soon and that operations would fully resume once it does.
President Michel Aoun said on Thursday he was ready for dialogue with protesters, who blame the political elite for economic hardship. He suggested a government reshuffle was possible.
“Once normalcy is restored, we are very confident that we can resume servicing our customers in full capacity,” said Salim Sfeir, chairman of ABL and Bank of Beirut. “We have operated in the past in the darkest and most difficult moments, and never defaulted or neglected our obligations.”
Banks have shut their doors for six working days.
They will remain closed on Friday for the safety of customers, employees and properties, the ABL said. They would provide month-end wages via ATMs, it said in a statement, carried on the state news agency.
The protests have swept the country even after the government announced an emergency reform package this week. It includes halving the salaries of ministers, as well as long-delayed steps to fix the finances of the heavily indebted state.
This has yet to defuse the protests or prod foreign donors to move forwards with billions pledged at a Paris conference last year.
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, Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood)