Syrian activists have called for a nationwide strike on Sunday—a working day—as the first stage in a campaign of civil disobedience against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Local Coordination Committees, the grassroots organisers of the peaceful protest movement which began in March, said the campaign would include sit-ins, shop closures and strikes by public service workers and students.
A similar call for a walkout two months ago had mixed results. Shops and businesses in the southern province of Deraa, cradle of Syria's eight-month-old popular revolt, shut for eight days at the end of October.
In the city of Homs and nearby areas in northwestern Syria people staged a general strike on 26 October, partly enforced by armed insurgents.
But the two biggest cities of Damascus and Aleppo were largely unaffected, and residents of the capital said on Thursday authorities appeared to be taking steps to thwart Sunday's planned action.
Some shopkeepers who sought to pay their bills to the government this week said they were told to wait until Sunday when officials would visit their premises to collect the money—a veiled warning not to be closed.
One resident also reported increased numbers of police and plainclothes security forces in Damascus. "Every 10 metres you find a group of them, wearing normal clothes," she said.
The unrest, plus Western sanctions imposed in an effort to force Assad to change course, have dealt a severe blow to Syria's economy and pushed up the dollar exchange rate.
The Syrian pound, which traded at around 51 to the dollar last week, is now valued at 54 at the official rate—a fall of 14 percent since the start of the uprising. On the Damascus black market the pound was changing hands at between 58 and 60, residents said.