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Anti-government protests take hold in southern Syria

Syrians hold a rare protest against President Bashar al-Assad's government in the southern town of Bosra al-Sham
— Bosra al-Sham (Syria) (AFP)

Rare protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government showed no sign of abating Friday with demonstrations reported in a string of towns in Daraa and Sweida provinces.

The protests began late last week after the government ended fuel subsidies, dealing a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from years of war and economic crisis.

In the Daraa province town of Bosra al-Sham, dozens of people demonstrated, openly calling for an end to Assad's rule, an AFP correspondent said.

"We have come to the streets in Bosra al-Sham to confirm our continuation of the Syrian revolution and the demands that brought us here in 2011," activist Ahmad Mekdad said on the sidelines of the protest.

Daraa province was the cradle of the 2011 uprising, which Assad bloodily suppressed, triggering more than a decade of civil war which has killed more than half a million people and driven millions more from their homes.

Demonstrators held placards reading: "Leave! We want to live," and: "Silence today means the tyrant continues."

Syrians in the rebel-held northern city of Azaz demonstrate in solidarity with the protesters in the government-ruled south

"We will not go back on our demands for freedom, dignity and a united Syria," Mekdad told AFP.

Activists from the Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office said similar protests were also held in at least eight other places in the province.

Daraa returned to government control in 2018 under a Russia-brokered deal with rebel fighters. It has since been wracked by insecurity, violence and dire living conditions.

Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported protests in multiple Daraa province towns on Friday.

- 'Syria is ours' -

In neighbouring Sweida, hundreds of people rallied in the provincial capital in the biggest demonstration since the protests began last week, the Observatory said.

Hundreds take to the streets of the Syrian city of Sweida in what a monitoring group described as the largest in days of protests since the government ended fuel subsidies last week

Demonstrators revived slogans from the Arab Spring protests of 2011, including: "The people want the fall of the regime", and: "Syria is ours and not the Assad family's", footage posted by the Suwayda24 news outlet showed.

Sweida is the heartland of Syria's Druze minority and has been spared the worst of the violence between Assad's Alawite-led government and mainly Sunni Muslim rebels.

In exchange for tacit support of the government, the Druze obtained exemptions from military service outside Sweida, and Syrian security services have a limited presence in the province.

Sweida has seen sporadic demonstrations over living conditions in the past. In December, one protester and a policeman were killed when security forces broke up a demonstration in the provincial capital.