Syria's Kurds to be naturalized

AFP , Thursday 7 Apr 2011

Kurds, who make up 10 to 15 per cent of Syria's population, are finally granted Syrian citizenship

President Bashar Al-Assad on Thursday granted citizenship to Syria's Kurds, the majority in the northeast who have been denied nationality for nearly half a century, said SANA state news agency.

"President Assad issued a decree granting Arab Syrian citizenship to people registered as foreigners in the (governorate of Hassakeh)," said the news agency.

The measure would benefit about 300,000 Kurds.

In 1962, 20 per cent of Syria’s ethnic Kurdish population were deprived of citizenship following a controversial census, according to human rights groups.

Syria has also released 48 ethnic Kurds, a rights group said, to try to ease resentment over nearly five decades of authoritarian Baathist rule.

Once unthinkable popular protests have shaken mainly Sunni Muslim Syria for nearly three weeks, with demonstrators demanding an end to emergency law and one-party rule by the Baath Party.

Syria's ruling hierarchy, packed with minority Alawites, has tolerated no dissent and has used emergency laws to justify arbitrary arrests, including those of other minorities such as Kurds who say they are discriminated against.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 48 Kurds were released on Tuesday, more than a year after they were arrested in the eastern city of Raqqa.

In a move to mollify conservative Muslims, Syria also lifted on Wednesday a ban on teachers wearing the full face veil and ordered the closure of the country's only casino.

The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Syria, where Assad's father, late President Hafez Al-Assad crushed an armed revolt by the Islamists in the city of Hama in 1982, killing thousands.

The pro-democracy protests first erupted in the southern city of Deraa.

Assad also met provincial leaders from the Kurdish east of the country earlier in the week to listen to their demands, the official news agency reported.

Assad cracked down on ethnic Kurds, who make up about 10-15 per cent of Syria's 20 million people, when they launched violent demonstrations against the state in 2004.

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