Syrian leader names new governors as protests mount

Syria’s under-fire president on Sunday appointed two new governors in flashpoint provinces that have seen staunch protests against his regime, as security forces reportedly killed three more civilians.

On the political front the European Union (EU) was set to call anew on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and to condemn the deadly repression against dissent, according to a draft statement seen by Agence France-Presse.

“President Assad must step aside to allow a political transition to take place in Syria,” said the statement which EU leaders were expected to adopt at the close of talks later on Sunday.

State television said al-Assad named new governors for the north western province of Idlib and for the Damascus governorate, both of which have seen massive anti-regime demonstrations over the past seven months.

Assad has sacked several governors since the wave of protests erupted in mid-March, including the Hama governor who was dismissed in July after a record 500 000 protesters rallied there against the regime.

Yasser Salman el-Shufi was named as Idlib’s new governor while Makhluf Makhluf was appointed governor for the Damascus province.

Activists called for fresh protests on Sunday under the slogan: “It’s your turn” — a reference to Assad — hoping to force him out of power in the way Libyans ended the rule of Muammar Gadaffi.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a funeral for two civilians shot dead at dawn quickly turned into an anti-regime rally in the flashpoint province of Hama.

Angry mourners in the Hama village of Al-Madiq “demanded the fall of the regime,” the Britain-based group said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

Steeped in blood
Hama’s history is steeped in blood. An estimated 20 000 people were killed there in 1982 when the army put down an Islamist revolt against the rule of Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad.

A third civilian was killed when security forces manning a checkpoint in Mayadeen near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor opened fire and two others were seriously wounded, the Observatory said.

Also on Sunday, troops backed by security forces raided the villages of Dael and Ibtaa in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the pro-democracy protests, to end a strike by residents.

“The military forces removed barricades set up by the residents in Dael and Ibraa,” the Observatory said, adding that the strike had been launched four days earlier.

The pro-democracy activists who called for more anti-regime demonstrations on Sunday compared al-Assad to Gadaffi, who was killed Thursday.

“It’s your turn. We do the same with criminals,” said a message posted on the Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011 under pictures of al-Assad and Gadaffi.

The EU has repeatedly ramped up pressure against Damascus, extending sanctions against allies of Assad to banks and the oil sector, over the deadly crackdown which has killed more than 3 000 people since mid-March.

In Sunday’s draft statement it also voiced support for Syria’s largest opposition group, the Syrian National Council, and urged UN Security Council members to “assume their responsibilities” concerning Syria.

The statement due to be adopted on Sunday comes three days before an Arab League delegation was due to visit Damascus in a new attempt to defuse the tension and prod talks between al-Assad’s regime and the opposition. — AFP

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