Assad speaking 311.
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Syrian President Bashar Assad sacked the governor of Hama province on Saturday – a day
after tens of thousands of demonstrators massed in the provincial capital to
demand the Syrian leader step down.
The demonstration in Hama, scene of a
bloody crackdown by Assad’s father 29 years ago, was part of nationwide protests
that activists said were some of the biggest since the uprising against Assad’s
rule erupted 14 weeks ago. State news agency SANA agency said Assad issued a
decree dismissing Ahmad Khaled Abdulaziz, governor of Hama province, without
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The weekend’s protests took place while Assad’s troops,
backed by tanks and helicopters, pursued a military campaign in the northwestern
province of Idlib, where a prominent rights lawyer said 14 villagers were killed
Another 10 people were shot dead by security forces who
confronted demonstrators in the central city of Homs, Damascus suburbs and the
Mediterranean city of Latakia, Omar Idibi said.
Hama was the site of an
armed Islamist uprising against Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, who sent the army
to crush the revolt in 1982. At least 10,000 people were killed and part of the
old city was flattened in the military operation.
One month ago,
activists said Syrian forces killed at least 60 protesters in the city, in one
of the bloodiest days of the uprising against Assad. Residents said security
forces and snipers had fired on crowds of demonstrators.
newspaper reported the emergence of an apparently
US-sponsored “road map” for reforms that would see Assad remain in power despite
the widespread calls for his ouster.
Syrian opposition figures said the
US State Department has been discreetly circulating a draft document that would
see Assad preside over “a secure and peaceful transition to civil democracy,”
while reining in the security forces and paramilitary “shabiha” gangs, and enact
freedom of the press and assembly. Washington flatly denied the
The 3,000-word document also calls for greater political
participation in Syria, a “clear and frank apology” for the bloodshed and an
apology to families of the victims.
Syrian protest leaders said the text
was not discussed at last week’s opposition conference in Damascus, and the
Guardian later reported that most opposition figures had distanced themselves
from the document.
“They are asking Bashar to lead the transition, and this is not acceptable to
the protesters,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a US-based anti-government figure. “It is
Still, the leaked road map bears the signatures of Louay
Hussein and Maan Abdelsalam, leading secular intellectuals in the opposition
National Action Committee.
Assad has already sacked the governors of
Deraa, where the protests first broke out on March 18, and Homs, but neither
move halted the momentum of protests in those provinces.
Assad has also
promised a national dialogue to discuss political reform in Syria, and
authorities say preliminary talks with the opposition will take place on July
Prominent opposition figures plan to convene their own “national
salvation” conference in Damascus on July 16 to reach a broad-based blueprint for
solving Syria’s political crisis.
“In light of the military solution
chosen by the regime to end the revolution, the conference aims to reach a
consensus guided by the popular protest movement for a transitional period and a
national salvation government that lays the foundation for a new constitution
and free elections,” said a statement by the organizers sent to
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday the Syrian
government was running out of time “to allow a serious political process,” or
else face increasingly organized resistance.
In a report issued on
Saturday, Human Right Watch said government security forces and their allies
killed 21 people in the past two weeks in Syria’s third-largest city of Homs. It
said security forces beat protesters with clubs, vandalized private property and
broke into homes where they suspected protesters had sought
Security personnel dressed in civilian clothes detained
protesters repeatedly, often traveling in taxis to approach and detain people,
the group said.
Activists say Syrian security forces have shot dead at
least 1,300 civilians since the protests started, and arrested over 12,000.
Authorities say 500 police and soldiers have been killed by gunmen they also
blame for most civilian deaths.
The United States and European Union have
put sanctions on Assad and his top officials in response to the violence, and
last week the US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on Syria’s
security forces for human rights abuses and against Iran for supporting
Damascus and Tehran both deny Western accusations that Iran has
supported the crackdown on Syrian protesters.