Syria Offers Changes Before Renewed Protests

As Syria braced for renewed antigovernment demonstrations, the government announced new measures on Thursday seemingly aimed at addressing the protesters’ demands. But analysts said they were doubtful that the changes, coming a day after President Bashar al-Assad pointedly refused to make concessions, would amount to more than window dressing, and activists promised to go ahead with plans for a nationwide protest on Friday.

The protest could be a critical test of the strength of the movement, which in a little over two weeks has posed an unprecedented challenge to the four-decade iron rule of the Assad family.

The police and the military have responded aggressively to check the protests; activists say at least 103 people have died. Mr. Assad’s speech to the nation on Wednesday, in which he called the protesters dupes and agents of a foreign conspiracy, left little doubt that the hard line would continue.

Ammar al-Qurabi, a Syrian activist currently in Cairo, said the speech and the violence of the last two weeks could discourage some from protesting on Friday, but he said he remained optimistic.

“People are afraid to protest tomorrow, but there are many who are upset about the speech and what is happening in the country right now, and a good many of them will not be afraid to take to the street,” he said.

“Of course I am nervous; my people are being killed in the street,” he added. “The president’s speech was very threatening.”

Mr. Assad, in his first public address since the unrest began, said the democracy protests were merely a disguise for a foreign conspiracy to “fragment Syria, to bring down Syria as a nation, to enforce an Israeli agenda.
BBC