Syria’s main Druze city sees more unrest, calls for Friday protests

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Tens of Syrian protesters gathered on Thursday in the mainly Druze city of Sweida to protest against worsening economic conditions and subsidy cuts that came into force last week, residents, activists and local officials said on Thursday.

Sporadic rallies have taken place this week in villages around the southwestern city, where protesters blocked roads and dozens rallied in the main square of the city to demand a halt to the cuts in subsidies that followed gasoline price hikes in recent months.

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“We have been moved by the pain of our people and will continue our peaceful protest until our demands are met,” said Hamed Marouf, a protester who had joined the protests since they first began last Thursday.

The government says cuts in a once lavish subsidy program to ease the burden on the sanctions-hit country’s state finances only affected the wealthiest.

But many protesters say the move worsened the plight of ordinary Syrian who survived a decade of devastating war and are now struggling to afford food and basic supplies amid rampant inflation and eroding incomes.

Residents blame growing discontent within the ranks of those who stood with President Bashar al Assad during the conflict on rampant corruption and worsening inequalities.

Sweida city remained in government hands during the conflict, that has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced and uprooted millions.

Witnesses said hundreds of security forces were seen arriving in buses from Damascus as activists urged people to take to the streets on Friday.

“We want to live with dignity,” chanted protesters with some carrying banners saying, “There is nothing left for the poor” and waving the Druze community flag.

State media made no mention of the protests. A senior presidential advisor, Bouthiana Shaaban, wrote in a leading state-owned newspaper on Monday the pro-democracy protests in 2011 that were violently crushed by security forces and spiraled into the over decade- old conflict were foreign-inspired to wreck the country.

Religious elders of the Druze community have said peaceful protests against unfair government measures were justified.

Protests are rare in Assad-controlled territory and the Druze minority have long resisted being drawn into the civil war that pits mainly Sunni rebels against Assad’s family rule.

Read more: Building collapse in northwest Syria kills four, including three children

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