Syria`s Assad makes gesture to Kurds amid protests

The Syrian President granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a key demand of the country`s long ostracised minority.

Updated: Apr 08, 2011, 00:37 AM IST

Beirut: The Syrian president granted
citizenship today to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a key
demand of the country`s long ostracised minority and making
another overture amid extraordinary anti-government protests
that have shaken Bashar Assad`s authoritarian regime.

State-run television said Assad issued a decree
granting citizenship to more than 250,000 Kurds registered as
aliens in the records of the northeastern Hasaka province.

In a separate decree, Assad fired the governor of
central Homs province, which has been the scene of clashes
between anti-government protesters and security forces over
the past three weeks.

The overtures are part of a series of concessions by
the regime designed to subdue the protests that erupted in a
southern city on March 18 and spread to other parts of Syria.

The decrees come on the eve of more protests planned
by Syrian activists, who used social networking sites to call
for nationwide demonstrations tomorrow.

Local and international human rights groups have said
at least 100 people have been killed in the crackdown on
demonstrations that echo the recent uprisings across the Arab

Many Syrian activists were sceptical about the

"All these decisions are cosmetic, they do not touch
the core of the problem," said Haitham al-Maleh, a leading
opposition figure.

Al-Maleh, an 80-year-old lawyer and longtime rights
activist who spent several years in jail, said the protests
that began in Syria will "continue to snowball until real
changes are made."

He said among those changes are lifting the state of
emergency in place since 1963, separating the state from the
judiciary, a new law that allows formation of political
parties and free elections.

Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in Syria, make up
15 per cent of the country`s 23 million people and have long
complained of neglect and discrimination. The more than
250,000 Kurds who have been denied citizenship were barred
from voting, owning property, going to state schools or
getting government jobs as a result.