Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

A portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decorates a damaged building in Zabdin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, on October 08, 2018. The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war. (AFP / LOUAI BESHARA)
Updated 18 October 2018

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

  • ‘Law 10’ withdrawn, UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says
  • The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes

BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.

Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.

The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made ... it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”

Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.

Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News. 

“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”

Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”

Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter.  “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”

The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.     

Sudan protesters plan march on parliament, more demos

Updated 19 January 2019

Sudan protesters plan march on parliament, more demos

KHARTOUM: A group that is spearheading anti-government protests across Sudan on Saturday said it plans to launch more nationwide rallies over the next few days, including a march on parliament.
Protests have rocked Sudan since December 19, when the government raised the price of bread, and since then have escalated into rallies against President Omar Al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions, in a statement called for a march on parliament Sunday to submit to lawmakers a memorandum calling for Bashir to step aside.
“We are calling for a march to parliament in Omdurman on Sunday,” it said referring to Khartoum’s twin city where parliament is located.
“The protesters will submit to parliament a memorandum calling on President Bashir to step down,” added the association, which represents the unions of doctors, teachers and engineers.
Over the past month, protesters have staged several demonstrations in Omdurman, on the west bank of the Nile.
Officials say at least 26 people, including two security personnel, have died during a month of protests, while rights group Amnesty International last week put the death toll at more than 40.
The group spearheading the protests said there will also be rallies in Khartoum on Sunday, to be followed by night-time demonstrations on Tuesday in the capital and in Omdurman.
“And on Thursday there will be rallies across all towns and cities of Sudan,” the statement added.
On Friday, hundreds of mourners leaving the funeral of a protester had staged a spontaneous demonstration in the capital’s Burri district, while crowds of Muslim worshippers had launched another rally in a mosque in Omdurman, witnesses said.
Protesters chanting “freedom, peace, justice” have been confronted by riot police with tear gas at several rallies since the first protest erupted in the eastern town of Atbara on December 19 after the rise of bread price.
The government’s tough response has sparked international criticism, while Bashir has blamed the violence on unidentified “conspirators.”
Analysts say the protests have emerged as the biggest challenge to the veteran leader’s rule who swept to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup.
The protests come as Sudan suffers from an economic crisis driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation that has more than doubled the price of food and medicines.