Protests hit south Syria over living conditions

AFP , Monday 21 Aug 2023

Hundreds of Syrians took to the streets again on Monday in the country's southern Sweida province, local media reported, as dire living conditions stoke discontent in regime-held areas.

A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Suwaida on August 21, 2023. AFP


Rare protests have erupted in the country's south in recent days after the government lifted fuel subsidies last week, dealing a blow to Syrians already struggling with the heavy toll that 12 years of war have exacted on the economy.

Local news outlet Suwayda24 posted videos showing hundreds of protesters gathered in the province on Monday, holding up banners and chanting anti-government slogans including "freedom" and "long live Syria, down with (President) Bashar al-Assad".

The protests come on the heels of a strike Sunday against deteriorating living conditions and price hikes across Sweida province -- the heartland of the country's Druze minority -- which has been mostly spared the worst of the civil conflict.

Syria's war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in 2011 following Assad's repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests.

It spiralled into a deadly conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists.

While sporadic demonstrations have erupted in Sweida over the years, there are signs discontent appears to be simmering even in government strongholds.

One activist called on social media for a protest later Monday in Latakia province -- an extremely rare move in the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite community -- but later retracted the call.

Some residents also gathered in recent days in Jaramana, a suburb of the capital Damascus, to protest recurrent power cuts, a witness told AFP.

On Saturday, dozens demonstrated in southern Syria's Daraa province, some raising the opposition flag and calling for Assad's departure, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Daraa was the cradle of Syria's uprising. It returned to regime control in 2018 under a Russia-backed ceasefire deal and has since been wracked by violence and dire living conditions.

Suwayda24 called Sunday's strike "unprecedented" since 2011, noting government offices had shut in the province and protesters chanted anti-Assad slogans.

In December, one protester and a policeman were killed when security forces cracked down on a demonstration in Sweida against deteriorating living conditions.

Short link: