Violent protests hit Syria’s Sweida city

Updated 05 September 2015

Violent protests hit Syria’s Sweida city

BEIRUT: Druze gunmen in southern Syria killed six government security personnel during violent protests after a Druze leader and dozens of people died in two car bomb blasts overnight, a monitor said on Saturday.

The two explosions late on Friday and ensuing protests killed at least 37 people in and around the town of Sweida, a stronghold of Syria’s Druze minority, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
Druze leader Sheikh Wahid Al-Balous, who had opposed the Syrian government and insurgents fighting it, was killed by one of the bombs on the outskirts of Sweida, the Observatory said. The other blast took place in Sweida about the same time. Syrian state media confirmed the two explosions and a death toll of more than two dozen people, but did not mention Balous.
There was no claim of responsibility for either blast.
After the attacks, dozens of people protested outside government buildings in the Sweida area, setting cars alight and destroying a statue in the town of former president Hafez Assad, father of President Bashar Assad, the Observatory said.
The security personnel died during the unrest.
Sweida province has seen assaults from Islamic State fighters in the east and other insurgent groups, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, from the west, in separate attempts to advance on the area.
The area borders the Damascus countryside and Daraa province, both strategically important to Assad.
In fighting early in the summer, insurgents in Sweida province tried to capture a main road to Damascus. But such intense violence in Sweida, the province’s capital, is rare.

Protests rage in sanctions-hit Iran amid regime crackdown

Updated 2 min 21 sec ago

Protests rage in sanctions-hit Iran amid regime crackdown

  • Police officer dies in confrontation with protesters in the western city of Kermanshah
  • US condemns regime's ‘attempted shutdown of internet’

JEDDAH: Protests in Iran are a continuation of popular discontent among citizens, a regional expert told Arab News on Sunday, as a policeman was shot dead amid unrest at rising oil prices.

Maj. Iraj Javaheri died of his wounds a day after a confrontation with protesters in the western city of Kermanshah on Saturday, provincial Police Chief Ali Akbar Javidan said.

President Hassan Rouhani defended the controversial hike in gasoline prices during Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, arguing the alternatives were less favorable.

 Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed the sharp gasoline price rises and blamed the protests on Iran’s opponents and an act of “sabotage” by foreign foes.

But Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, an expert in Iranian affairs, said that Rouhani’s remarks “may be read by protesters as a sign of weakness from the government and thus lead to raising the ceiling of popular demands, especially as most of the slogans chanted by the demonstrators hit Khamenei personally and the regime of the Islamic Republic, burning images of Khamenei and attacking the headquarters of the Basij forces.

“The coming days remain important, especially if the protests continue until Friday,” he said. “The protests are expected to widen and increase in frequency.”

Access to the internet has been restricted since the demonstrations broke out.

Netblocks, an internet monitoring website, said the country was in the grip of a shutdown.

“Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7 percent of ordinary levels after 12 hours of progressive network disconnections,” it said on Twitter.

The internet curbs are apparently aimed at preventing protesters from communicating with each other and sharing videos on social media.

“We condemn the attempted shutdown of the internet. Let them speak!” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Twitter on Sunday.

Al-Sulami also said it was clear that US sanctions on Tehran “have strained the Iranian budget, making it move toward the easiest option to absorb funds from inside Iran.”

He added: “All this was the spark that encouraged the Iranian people to start a new wave of demonstrations.”