Syria set for protests despite overtures

2011-04-08 13:01

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

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

The calls came despite a series of concessions by Assad, including sacking his Cabinet and firing two governors. On Thursday, he granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a decades-old key demand of the country's long ostracised minority.

The overtures are designed to subdue 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, the Damascus suburb were at least eight people were killed during protests last Friday, told the AP he was expecting a large turnout for Friday's protest. He said hundreds of activists and residents have met this week to prepare for the demonstration.

Sceptical about concessions

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

Many Syrian activists remain sceptical about the regime's concessions.

"All these decisions are cosmetic, they do not touch the core of the problem," Haitham al-Maleh, a leading opposition figure, said on Thursday.

Al-Maleh, an 80-year-old lawyer and 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.