Hundreds of Syrians in the mainly Druze city of Sweida took to the streets for a fifth consecutive day on Thursday, protesting at worsening economic conditions and demanding the departure of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
Residents converged to a main square of the southwestern city in protests sparked last week by sudden steep gasoline price hikes, witnesses and civic activists said.
Prominent formerly pro-government Druze religious leaders met on Thursday for the first time since the protests erupted, acknowledging the right to protest peacefully against government policies, but refrained from endorsing the widespread calls for Assad to step down.
“These protests are the righteous voice of the Syrian people,” Sheikh Hikmat Hajri, the spiritual leader of Syria’s Druze community, told followers. But he spoke against vandalism or the acts of violence seen last week when youths burnt tires and blocked access to the city.
Protesters, who on Wednesday burnt a huge poster of Assad that hung in the main square, chanted “Go, go, Assad. We want to eat.” Same chants could be heard at the start of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that were violently crushed by security forces and sparked a violent, an over-decade long conflict.
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