Security forces in Syria are reported to have killed 24 civilians in Friday protests on July 1, as tens of thousands marched to demand the resignation of President Bashir Assad in some of the biggest demonstrations of the three-month uprising. Lawyer Razan Zaitouna told Reuters by phone that the 24 dead included seven protesters in the central city of Homs, and 14 villagers in the northwestern province of Idlib, where troops backed by tanks and helicopters have been deployed. “Bashir get out of our lives,” read placards carried by thousands of Kurds who marched in the northeastern city of Amouda, according to a video taken by resident.
Prominent opposition figures plan to convene a ‘national salvation’ conference in Damascus on July 16 to reach a broad-based strategy for solving Syria’s political crisis. “In light of the military solution chosen by the regime to end the revolution, the conference aims to reach a consensus guided by the popular protest movement for a transitional period and a national salvation government that lays the foundation for a new constitution and free elections,” said a statement by the organizers, which was sent to Reuters.
The statement was signed by 50 figures, including Kurdish leader Mishaal al-Tammo, former judge Haitham al-Maleh, Nawaf al-Bashir, a tribal leader from the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, economist Aref Dalila, a fierce critic of the Assad’s family’s involvement in business and Walid al-Bunni, a physician who played a leading role in a pro-democracy movement crushed by Assad ten years ago known as the “Damascus Spring.”
The regime shows some sings of permitting a limited political opening, even as harsh repression continues. A meeting of intellectuals allowed by the authorities last week that gave a rare platform to several opposition figures. But rights campaigners cite arbitrary arrests of over 1,000 over the last week alone. (Reuters, July 1)
In Egypt, some 5,000 protesters converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to join an encampment of pro-democracy activists for a demonstration to keep up the pressure on the country’s military rulers.The encampment is led by families of those killed in the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, to demand the trial of police officers implicated in the deaths. Some held signs demanding an end to military trials of civilians, others called for the resignation of the interior minister, and the speedy open trials of old regime officials. (Middle East Online, July 1)
Hundreds of thousands also marched across Yemen on Friday to demand the departure of all figures in the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been hospitalised in Riyadh for nearly a month. “We want the departure of the remains of the regime as well as the swift formation of an interim ruling council that would lead the country during a transitional period until a date is set for presidential and parliamentary elections,” said Wassim al-Qurshi, a leading protest activist. But Saleh supporters also rallied in Sanaa to express their “loyalty” to the veteran leader, who is receiving treatment from wounds sustained in an explosion at his presidential compound on June 3. In Saleh’s absence, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has come under growing pressure from the West to formally assume power, while protesters demand that he form an interim ruling council. (Middle East Online, July 1)
In Morocco, a new constitution giving the government and parliament wider powers was approved by 98% of voters in a referendum Friday, the Interior Ministry said. The government claimed a 73% turnout, despite a call to boycott the vote by the youth-based February 20 Movement, whose protest campaign prompted the reforms.
In addition to granting the prime minister more executive authority, the new constitution would reinforce the independence of the judiciary and enlarge parliament’s role. It would remove a reference to the king as “sacred,” though he would remain “Commander of the Faithful” and “inviolable”. The new charter would also guarantee more rights to women and make Berber an official language along with Arabic—an unprecedented recognition by an Arab government of North Africa‘s indigenous language. However, the reforms fall short of the full constitutional monarchy that protesters are demanding. (Middle East Online, July 2)
See our last post on the Arab Spring.