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Banks in Azerbaijan Limit Foreign Currency Sales

Manat banknotes, the national currency of Azerbaijan, are seen in this photo illustration taken in Tbilisi, Georgia, Jan. 18, 2016.

Some bank branches in Azerbaijan's capital imposed limits Thursday on the amounts of foreign currency they would sell to customers, who in some places lined up outside to convert their cheapening manats.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan has been hit hard by the collapse in global crude prices, and the manat currency has fallen in value by more than a third against the dollar in the past month.

The central bank has burned through more than half its foreign exchange reserves trying to support it.

Authorities have reassured citizens that the slide in the currency will not continue much further, although President Ilhan Aliyev said Thursday that no new measures were planned to stabilize the manat, Russia's RIA news agency reported.

But many residents are skeptical.

"I'm afraid that the rate will go down again," Samira, a 51-year-old doctor, told Reuters as she stood in line at a Yapi Kredi Bank in central Baku to buy foreign currency.

At some branches of the International Bank of Azerbaijan visited by a Reuters reporter, sales of foreign currency stopped after lunchtime Thursday. Shutters were down.

Yapi Kredi Bank was selling dollars, but with a limit of $100 per person. Azerturk Bank was limiting customers to one transaction each per day.

'Complete lawlessness'

Nuara Kyazimova, a teacher, said she had been asked at Azerturk Bank for her identity document to buy $400, even though rules introduced this week state there is no need to show any documents for transactions under $500.

"It's complete lawlessness," she said outside the bank.

Restrictions imposed by banks were on top of limits mandated by the authorities.

The central bank's official exchange rate for Thursday was 1.6028 manats per U.S. dollar.

Central bank chief Elman Rustamov said Tuesday that rumors the manat might tumble further, to 1.8 to 2.0 per dollar, were groundless.

Asked about that assurance, Ziad, a 26-year-old Baku resident, said: "Yes, I know why he has said that. It's because the rate will be worse, at 2.5 per dollar."

Illegal street dealers in Baku were offering a rate of 1.8, "but they disappeared after police arrested some of them," said a vendor at a newspaper booth near the city market, where dealers were offering dollars last week. "The police have been monitoring this place since last Saturday," he said, before offering his services in setting up an illegal sale of dollars.

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