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 world.
Many Syrian activists were sceptical about the concessions.
“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. Agencies