BEIRUT, (AP) – Syrian soldiers and armed security agents in plainclothes deployed across the tense central city of Homs on Thursday, taking up positions in the area on the eve of large rallies planned by Syrian anti-government activists, eyewitnesses said.
The deployment came as the Syrian president appointed a new governor for Homs after having caved in to protesters’ demands to replace its top local official earlier this month.
Homs has seen violent confrontations as Syrian security forces have cracked down on anti-government protesters over the past weeks. At least 12 protesters were killed over the weekend and several others died Tuesday when security forces fired on hundreds of people staging a sit-in.
President Bashar Assad sacked the Homs governor on April 7, in an overture to the mass protests that have threatened his grip on power. Syria’s state news agency said on Thursday the president appointed Ghassan Abdul-Al as the new governor.
The governor’s sacking was one of several gestures by the government in response to the unprecedented demonstrations against Assad’s regime that have gripped the country.
On Tuesday, Assad announced an end to the almost 50 years-old emergency rule, which gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.
But emboldened and defiant crowds accused Assad of simply trying to buy time while he clings to power. Protests continued Wednesday in several parts of the country.
At least 200 people have been killed in the government crackdown since the protests erupted last month, according to Syrian rights groups.
An eyewitness in Homs said almost all shops in the city were closed for the third straight day Thursday, after activists had called for a general strike. Some 2,000 people took part in a funeral Wednesday for a person who died in the earlier violence.
He and other activists told The Associated Press that huge rallies were planned nationwide Friday. The protests have dubbed the day “Good Friday,” in reference to the Friday before Easter when Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ.
They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.