Syrian president fires governor in charge of volatile city
President Bashar Assad of Syria fired the governor responsible for the city of Hama on Saturday, a day after tens of thousands of protesters filled its streets in the largest demonstration since the uprising began nearly four months ago.
The New York Times
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar Assad of Syria fired the governor responsible for the city of Hama on Saturday, a day after tens of thousands of protesters filled its streets in the largest demonstration since the uprising began nearly four months ago.
The move seemed at least in part an effort to appease the protesters in Hama, where demonstrations have grown bigger and more persistent since the military and the security forces withdrew in June for reasons that remain unclear.
On Friday, some residents put the crowd at more than 100,000 in scenes redolent of Tahrir Square in Cairo in February, as youths climbed on cars to deliver chants, songs and speeches, and residents offered water and bananas to protesters on a hot summer day.
A conservative Sunni Muslim city on the main corridor that links Damascus with Homs and Aleppo, Hama carries symbolic weight. In the culmination of a struggle between the government and an armed Islamic opposition in 1982, government forces stormed the city, killing at least 10,000 people and flattening part of the old quarter. Some estimates put the number of dead higher, and nearly 30 years later, cries for vengeance over Hama still occasionally punctuate this uprising.
After particularly bloody protests in Hama on June 3, in which government forces killed as many as 73 people, the military and the security forces largely abandoned the streets. On Friday, not even traffic officers were out. The government also took steps to contain the crisis, firing some security workers in the city and reaching an agreement to allow peaceful protests as long as no property was damaged.
The governor's firing on Saturday appeared to be a gesture in that direction. The state news agency, SANA, said, without details, that Assad had issued the decree dismissing the governor, Ahmad Khaled Abdulaziz.
Syrian officials have pointed to Hama as evidence of its willingness to tolerate peaceful dissent. The military has also pulled back from cities like Dayr az Zawr, in eastern Syria, and Abu Kamal, on the Iraqi border.
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