US warns businesses against taking part in Damascus fair

The Damascus International Fairgrounds, located near the city’s international airport, is hosting the fair. (AP)
Updated 28 August 2019

US warns businesses against taking part in Damascus fair

  • “We reiterate our warning that anyone doing business with the Assad regime or its associates is exposing themselves to the possibility of US sanctions”
  • The fair resumed in 2017 for the first time since war broke out

BEIRUT: The United States warned businesses against taking part in an annual trade fair in the Syrian capital opening Wednesday, saying participants would expose themselves to the possibility of US sanctions.
Russia, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, shot back, accusing the US of undermining the reconstruction of Syria.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the US Embassy in Syria, which closed the mission early on in the country’s eight-year civil war, said it has received reports that some regional businessmen or chambers of commerce plan to participate in the Damascus fair.
“We reiterate our warning that anyone doing business with the Assad regime or its associates is exposing themselves to the possibility of US sanctions,” it said.
The Damascus International Fairgrounds, located near the city’s international airport, is hosting the fair. Before the war started in 2011, the exhibition was a high-profile event, attracting major investors and celebrities from around the Arab world who performed to packed audiences on opening night.
The event was halted in 2001 as the country descended into conflict and rebels seized control of the eastern suburbs of Damascus, near the fairgrounds.
The fair resumed in 2017 for the first time since war broke out, an event hailed by officials as a victory and a sign of renewed confidence after rebels were ejected from the area around the capital following years-long fighting.
But participation has been largely confined to Syrian companies, followed by Lebanese and Iranian exhibitors and very few Russian, largely because of the challenges posed by international sanctions and the lack of a political solution to the conflict.
Sanctions by the US have been in place since 2011 but were tightened by the Trump administration in the past year.
The US statement said it is “unacceptable and inappropriate” for businesses and individuals to participate, “particularly at a time when the Assad regime and its allies Russia and the IRGC are attacking innocent civilians.” The IRGC is an acronym for Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
On its Facebook page, the embassy urged members of the public who have information on any businesses or individuals who plan to participate in the trade fair to email the US Department of Treasury with the information.
China’s ambassador in Damascus, Feng Biao, said the US threats to impose sanctions on participants at the Damascus fair would not deter Chinese companies from taking part.
“Damascus international fair is considered as a source of power for the Syrian people and a window to develop Syria’s economy,” Feng said in an interview with the state news agency SANA late Tuesday, adding that 58 Chinese companies will take part in the fair this year.
The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Washington of attempting to sabotage the event. The US’s “blatant attempts to undermine the Syrian leadership’s reconstruction efforts are harmful to Syria’s unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” the ministry said.


Protests grip Iraq’s capital and south despite rising toll

Updated 25 min 10 sec ago

Protests grip Iraq’s capital and south despite rising toll

  • Late Friday, unidentified gunmen attacked a parking complex near Tahrir
  • Protesters feared it signalled that their movement would be derailed but by Sunday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of Iraqi protesters streamed into streets and public squares in the capital and restive south on Sunday, saying they were not deterred by deadly violence meant to “scare” them.
In Baghdad, crowds of anti-government demonstrators thronged Tahrir Square, the epicenter of their movement.
Late Friday, unidentified gunmen attacked a parking complex near Tahrir where demonstrators had been squatting for weeks, leaving 20 protesters and four police officers dead, medics told AFP.
Protesters feared it signalled that their movement would be derailed but by Sunday, the numbers gathered under the sun in Tahrir were staggering.
“They’re trying to scare us in whatever ways they can, but we’re staying in the streets,” said Aisha, a 23-year-old protester.
At least 452 people — the vast majority of them protesters — have died and 20,000 have been wounded since the rallies erupted.
In Nasiriyah, a protest hotspot where dozens were killed in a spree of violence last month, protesters regrouped in downtown along with representatives of powerful tribes.
“We will keep protesting until the regime collapses,” pledged Ali Rahim, a student.
In other southern cities, local authorities had declared Sunday — the first day of the work week in Iraq — a holiday for civil servants.
Road blocks and massive strikes also disrupted work in Hilla, Amara, Diwaniya, Kut and the shrine city of Najaf, AFP’s correspondents there said.
The rallies have persisted despite the resignation of premier Adel Abdel Mahdi earlier this month, with protesters demanding the complete ouster of the ruling class.
Iraq is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by watchdog group Transparency International, with billions of dollars pilfered each year from the state budget of OPEC’s second-largest producer.