General strike in Syria largely ignored

AFP , Wednesday 18 May 2011

Schools, shops and transport were operating normally in Damascus and other cities on Wednesday as a nationwide general strike called by the opposition appeared to go largely unheeded

The call for a strike marked a new strategy by pro-democracy activists in the face of a brutal crackdown by the Syrian authorities on widespread protests against President President Bashar's autocratic rule.

Life appeared normal in the capital and in the second largest city Aleppo as well as other towns where residents were contacted, but activists said demonstrations were planned in several regions later in the day.

"Who would dare go on strike and risk losing their business or be targeted by authorities?" said one businessman in Damascus who requested anonymity.

"If anyone pulls down their store shutters they would immediately be spotted and risk losing their livelihood."

Another merchant in the old part of town said the strike was of little use given that customers had all but dried up since the unrest roiling the country began mid-March.

The Syrian Revolution 2011, an Internet-based opposition group, had called for the strike in the hope of putting more pressure on the embattled Assad regime.

"Wednesday will be a day of punishment for the regime by the revolutionaries and the people of free will," said a statement posted on the Facebook page of the group that has been a motor of the protests.

"Let’s transform this Wednesday into a Friday (the regular day for protests), with mass protests, no schools, no universities, no stores or restaurants open and even no taxis."

Two activists contacted by AFP Wednesday said that although the strike call may not be followed, demonstrations were planned later in the afternoon in several regions in the north and elsewhere.

More than 800 people, including women and children, have been killed in the unrest and at least 8,000 arrested, according to figures by rights groups and the United Nations.

The United States and European Union, which have slapped sanctions on members of Assad's inner circle, warned Tuesday that further measures were being considered against the regime.

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