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Syrian government resigns

(Reuters)
Filed on March 30, 2011
Syrian government resigns

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Al Assad accepted his government’s resignation on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of pro-democracy unrest that has posed the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule.

But the move was unlikely to satisfy protester demands since the cabinet has little authority in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Tens of thousands of Syrians held pro-government rallies on Tuesday, awaiting a speech in which Assad was expected to announce a decision on lifting emergency laws that have served to crush dissent for almost 50 years.

That is a key demand of anti-government demonstrations in which more than 60 people have been killed. “President Assad accepts the government’s resignation,” the state news agency SANA said, adding that Naji Al Otari, the prime minister since 2003, would remain caretaker until a new government was formed.

Protesters at first had limited their demands to greater freedoms. But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown on them, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they now call for the “downfall of the regime”.

Syrian state television showed people in the Syrian capital Damascus and in Aleppo, Hama and Hasaka waving the national flag, pictures of Assad and chanting “God, Syria, Bashar”.

“Breaking News: The conspiracy has failed!” declared one banner, echoing government accusations that foreign elements and armed gangs are behind the unrest. “With our blood and our souls we protect our national unity”, another said. Employees and members of unions controlled by Assad’s Baath Party, which has been in power since a 1963 coup, said they had been ordered to attend the rallies, where there was a heavy presence of security police. All gatherings and demonstrations not sponsored by the state are banned in Syria.

More than 200 protesters gathered in Deraa chanting “God, Syria and Freedom” and “O Hauran rise up in revolt”, a reference to the plateau where Deraa is located.

The government has said Syria is the target of a project to sow sectarian strife. Vice-President Farouq Al Shara said on Monday the 45-year-old president would give a speech in the next 48 hours that would “assure the people”.

Last week Assad made a pledge to look into ending emergency laws, consider drafting laws on greater political and media freedom, and raise living standards.


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