Saturday 10 December 2016

Strike and rebel raids heap more pressure on Syria rulers

Ruth Sherlock in Beirut

Published 12/12/2011 | 05:00

THE Syrian government's increasingly tenuous hold on power weakened further yesterday as rebels struck military targets across the country and thousands of businesses shut down in response to an opposition-called general strike

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Video footage from Deraa, the southern city where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March, showed rows of shuttered shops.

Defying the threat of reprisals, even traders in the capital Damascus, the regime's main stronghold, observed the strike, prompting opposition activists to declare that their call for industrial action had been a triumph.

"It is amazing so far," said Omar al-Khani, of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a nationwide group that organises protests. "We didn't expect it would be this big. Even some of the street markets in central Damascus are closed."

Wavering

Syrian soldiers and pro-regime "Shabiha" militiamen demonstrated their rage by firing guns into the air, banging on the shop shutters and prising them open to no avail. "In one street, they forced the owners to reopen their shops," an activist in Deraa said.

"The men opened them and closed them again as soon as soon as the Shabiha left."

With the government facing severe financial strictures as a result of international sanctions, sustained industrial action could prove highly effective at weakening the regime, observers say. The support of Syria's Sunni merchant class has been vital for Mr Assad, but there is evidence it is wavering as the economy deteriorates.

The strike also served as a show of unity for Syria's fractured opposition, which has been criticised for its perceived failure to coordinate action nationwide.

Protest coordinators said they would call for more strikes in the coming weeks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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