Five Lebanese banks were stormed today by depositors seeking to unlock frozen savings, the latest in a string of such "heists" that have garnered wide public support in the crisis-hit country.
Lebanon has been mired in an economic crisis for more than two years, since the value of its currency began plummeting and banks started imposing draconian restrictions on withdrawals.
In the past week, seven bank branches have been targeted by "depositor heists", prompting lenders to announce a three-day closure starting on Monday, according to the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
As the incidents snowballed today, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called an emergency meeting.
"Reclaiming rights in this way... can break the system and make the rest of the depositors lose their rights," he told reporters after the meeting.
Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat urged police to arrest all those involved in the heists, describing them as "armed robberies on banks with the aim of stopping the banking sector in Lebanon from working, and instigating more financial and economic crises".
Mr Oueidat also asked police to investigate whether any of the heists were connected to each other, a judicial source said.
The holdup of a Beirut bank on Wednesday by an activist who filmed herself using a toy gun appears to have sparked a series of copycat raids by angry depositors.
Today there were another three such incidents in Beirut and two in south Lebanon, AFP correspondents and a security source said.
In one case, a man carrying a gun and a jerrycan of fuel demanded staff at a branch of the Byblos bank in the southern town of Ghaziyeh hand over his money.
Accompanied by his son, he threatened bank staff with the gun, which a Lebanese television channel said may have been a toy, before making his demand.
"He emptied a jerrycan of fuel on the floor," a bank security guard said.
The man walked away with about $19,000 in cash but turned himself in to police moments later as a crowd formed in front of the bank to support him.
A few hours later in the Beirut neighbourhood of Tariq al-Jdideh, depositor Abed Soubra held up a branch of Blom Bank, demanding access to his frozen savings.
He eventually surrendered his weapon to police in the early evening but insisted he intended to stay in the bank until he got his money.
Another man armed with a hunting rifle held up a bank in Beirut's Ramlet el-Baida neighbourhood, witnesses said at the scene.
The man was eventually escorted out of the branch by security forces but his siblings were handed $15,000 of his savings, the Depositors Union said.
A man who held up a bank in Chehime in the south was also led away by security forces after pocketing $25,000 of his savings, the group said.
The spate of heists comes two days after a young activist stormed a central Beirut bank with fuel and a plastic gun to demand the deposits of her sister, who needed to pay for cancer treatment.
The woman identified as Sali Hafiz made off with around $13,000 and became an instant hero on social media.
Sali Hafiz streamed a live video on Facebook of her raid on a Beirut branch of Blom Bank, in which she could be heard yelling at employees to release a sum of money while entrances to the bank were sealed.
"I am Sali Hafiz, I came today ... to take the deposits of my sister who is dying in hospital," she said in the video.
"I did not come to kill anyone or to start a fire ... I came to claim my rights."
In an interview with a Lebanese broadcaster after the raid, Ms Hafiz said she managed to free about $13,000 of the $20,000 she said her family had deposited.
Cancer treatment for her sister costs $50,000, she said.
Ms Hafiz told media outlets she had used her nephew's toy pistol for the hold-up.
Ms Hafiz and suspected accomplices escaped through a smashed window at the back of the bank before security forces arrived.
She was still on the run, according to her relatives, while Lebanon's General Security agency dismissed rumours she had fled the country.
The severity of Lebanon's crisis has been widely blamed on a self-serving political elite and decades of corruption.
The currency has lost more than 90% of its value on the black market in recent years, while poverty and unemployment have soared.
Banks have been widely accused of operating like a cartel and of spiriting large amounts out of the country for senior Lebanese officials at a time when foreign transfers were already blocked for ordinary citizens.
A parliament session to approve the 2022 budget, a key reform needed for Lebanon to unlock billions of dollars from international lenders, was adjourned today until 26 September after quorum was lost when some politicians walked out.