| 20 July 2024, Saturday |

Syrian Druze protesters condemn Assad at mass rally

About 2,000 anti-government protesters have rallied in southern Syria and torn down a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in a city square.

It was the latest protest to grip the city of Suweida. Anger at the government erupted there three weeks ago when fuel subsidies were removed, deepening widespread economic hardship.

The authorities have not yet taken any drastic action against the protesters.

Suweida is in a region mainly populated by the minority Druze sect.

The government-controlled city has escaped the worst ravages of the civil war, but is suffering from an economic crisis like the rest of Syria.

The crowd on Friday chanted anti-government slogans including “May Bashar al-Assad fall!” and “Bashar al-Assad, we don’t want you!”

Activists say the demonstrations are swelling, but they are yet to spread to other government-held areas, the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher reports.

Such protests are rare in government-controlled areas, where security forces have cracked down brutally on political opponents.

Activist video footage seen by Reuters showed a group of men ripping a banner carrying President Assad’s portrait, which was hanging above the local branch of the Farmers’ Union. They then welded shut the doors of the offices.

In a previous protest in Suweida, a crowd smashed a statue of former president Hafez al-Assad.

There have been some anti-government protests too in neighbouring Deraa province, where the 2011 anti-Assad uprising began – but which was retaken by the government seven years later.