JEDDAH: Protests erupted on Thursday in the ethnic Druze city of Sweida in southwest Syria against economic collapse and a controversial increase in fuel prices
Hundreds of demonstrators burned tyres, blocked roads and chanted anti-government slogans calling for the overthrow of President Bashar Assad in a rare outbreak of dissent.
“Long live Syria and down with Assad,” protesters chanted near police headquarters and the governor’s office as nearby security forces avoided confrontation.
“This is close to an uprising as people express their deep anger with the decisions of the Syrian regime and the gasoline price hikes,” said civic activist Ryan Marouf. “They are demanding a life of dignity.”
The value of Syria’s currency has plunged from 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the conflict in 2011 to a record 15,500 on Wednesday. The government says cuts in a once lavish subsidy program affect only the wealthiest, but protesters say they have worsened the plight of ordinary Syrians who are struggling to afford food and basic necessities amid rampant inflation and eroding incomes.
There have been several minor protests in the past month over plunging incomes in coastal areas that are the stronghold of the Assad regime, and taxi and bus drivers in Damascus staged a second day of partial stoppages on Thursday.