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Lebanon finance minister asks banks to cut interest rates

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s finance minister urged the banks on Friday to cut interest rates and also tried to reassure savers that their deposits would not be touched as the country wrestles with a financial crisis.

The new government, which must still win a parliamentary vote of confidence, faces a liquidity crunch that has fueled inflation and weakened the Lebanese pound.

The financial crisis, Lebanon’s worst in decades, has also shaken confidence in the banks, which have imposed informal controls, and spurred fears among depositors over their savings.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni called on the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) to reduce interest rates “in the coming period in order to spur economic activity and ease the burden on public finances”, his office said in a statement issued after the minister met with the association.

The statement cited ABL chairman Salim Sfeir as saying the meeting “was very positive”. He later said in a tweet that banks would work to bring down interest rates.

The central bank told commercial banks in December to cap their interest rates on deposits in foreign currencies at 5% and to cap the rate on Lebanese pound deposits at 8.5%.

The outgoing economy minister, Mansour Bteish, said this month that Lebanon must bring interest rates down drastically as a first step toward rescuing its economy.

(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Ellen Francis; editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Gareth Jones)

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