Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria takes the initiative ahead of protests | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

DAMASCUS, (AFP) — A new governor was appointed to the Syrian protest hub of Daraa on Monday while a Facebook group urged rallies in honour of those killed in previous demonstrations.

In the port city of Latakia, eight prisoners died and 17 were injured in a jail blaze, police said.

President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing a domestic crisis unprecedented in 11 years of rule, has made a string of gestures hinting at change but failing to assuage protesters who are demanding greater freedom and political reforms.

Assad appointed Mohammad Khaled al-Hannus governor of Daraa, an agricultural town near the border with Jordan, where dozens have been killed in more than two weeks of unrest.

Hannus replaces the much-reviled Faysal Kalthum, sacked on March 23 at the height of anti-regime rallies that left dozens dead and the governor’s residence in flames.

The appointment, which was immediately dismissed as not enough by Syrian human rights activists, came one day after Assad asked former agriculture minister Adel Safar to form a new government.

“The residents of Daraa want more than a switch in governor — they want the security services to stop oppressing them, the emergency law lifted, property rights respected, the detained freed and freedom of expression guaranteed,” one activist told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Residents of Daraa had accused the former governor of postponing the acquisition of property rights and preventing farmers from drilling water wells for irrigation.

A lawmaker from the region issued a scathing indictment in parliament, accusing security forces of opening fire “without mercy” and criticising the president for not offering his condolences.

Activists estimate more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, mainly in the cities of Daraa and Latakia, home to the minority Alawi sect, from which President Assad hails.

Officials have put the death toll at closer to 30.

The commission charged with replacing Syria’s emergency law with new legislation will conclude its work by Friday, a newspaper close to the government reported.

“Sources within the commission tasked with studying the removal of the emergency law said it would, by Friday, finish formulating the necessary legislation to replace the emergency law,” the Al-Watan newspaper said.

Lifting Syria’s emergency law, in place since the end of 1962, has been a central demand of protesters in three weeks of pro-reform rallies across the country.

Al-Watan said the commission’s work is inspired by the “experience and legal frameworks of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, while taking into account both the dignity and safety of all citizens”.

“Its conclusions will be publicly discussed and the commission will listen to all views before the government passes the proposed legislation.”

President Bashar al-Assad had set April 25 as the deadline for the judicial commission to complete the task of drafting new legislation to replace emergency rule.

The law, which paved the way for the ruling Baath party to declare a state of emergency when it took power in 1963, imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movements, authorises interrogation of any individual and surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the media.

Also on Monday, Al-Watan said the committee investigating “events” in Daraa and Latakia, flashpoints of protests that were met with deadly violence, had questioned “many witnesses and will soon end its work”.

A Facebook group has called for a “Week of the Martyrs” protest in Syria in honour of those killed in the security clampdown on pro-reform rallies that mobilised thousands last Friday on the Muslim day of rest and prayer.

“The Week of the Martyrs will be a thorn on the regime’s side,” the organisers of Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011 said, designating Tuesday as the first day of protests focused on coastal towns “far from the capital”.

The group also called for a boycott of cell phone companies on Wednesday, a rally against the ruling Baath party on Thursday outside its Damascus headquarters, and countrywide demonstrations on Friday.

Eight prisoners died and 17 were injured in a jail blaze in the flashpoint town of Latakia, started when an inmate torched his mattress, police said.

“Twenty-five prisoners were hospitalised, eight of whom died of asphyxiation and serious burn injuries,” said Latakia police chief General Kamal Fteih.

The Syrian football federation announced Monday that it had indefinitely postponed the domestic football league programme.