Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Syrians prepare for protests despite Assad’s overtures

AP and Reuters, BEIRUT and AMMAN

Syrian activists were preparing for a fresh wave of protests following prayers yesterday despite a series of overtures by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to try and quell anti-government protests that have shaken his 11-year rule.

The activists, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said they were planning demonstrations in several provinces. Syrians on social networking sites also called for protests across the country, calling it “Friday of Steadfastness.”

Mass protests against Assad’s Baath Party rule were reported yesterday in several Kurdish regions in eastern Syria, a Kurdish activist said.

“The citizenship gesture only helped fuel the street [protests]. The Kurdish cause is one for democracy, freedom and cultural identity,” said Hassan Kamel, a high-level member of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

On Thursday, Assad had granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a decades-old key demand of the long ostracized minority.

His overtures, including sacking his Cabinet and firing two governor, were aimed at curbing the protests that erupted in a southern city on March 18 and spread to other parts of Syria.

Local and international human rights groups have said at least 100 people have been killed in the crackdown on demonstrations that echo the recent uprisings across the Arab world.

An activist in Douma, a suburb of Damascus where at least eight people were killed during protests on Friday last week, said he was expecting a large turnout yesterday. He said hundreds of activists and residents have met this week to prepare for the demonstration.

“We think and hope it will be a big one,” he said.

Many Syrian activists remain skeptical about the concessions.

“All these decisions are cosmetic, they do not touch the core of the problem,” Haitham al-Maleh, a 80-year-old lawyer and opposition figure, said on Thursday.

Al-Maleh, a longtime rights activist who spent several years in jail, said the protests that began in Syria will “continue to snowball until real changes are made.” He said among the changes required are the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in place since 1963, separating the state from the judiciary, and a new law that allows formation of political parties and free elections.

Assad’s overture to Kurds, who make up about 10 percent of the 20 million population, came after reports that authorities had released 48 Kurdish prisoners and that the president had met leaders in the eastern al-Hasaka region where many Kurds live earlier in the week.

It was not immediately clear how many would be granted Syrian nationality, but at least 150,000 Kurds are registered as foreigners as a result of a 1962 census in al-Hasaka.

Kurdish leader Habib Ibrahim said Kurds would press their non-violent struggle for civil rights and democracy.

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