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Protests in Syria after Assad’s cousin accused in road rage killing

AFP (file photo) | A relative of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (pictured) has been accused of killing an army officer in a road rage incident

Dozens of Syrians staged a rare protest in the coastal city of Latakia Saturday night, calling for the execution of a relative of President Bashar al-Assad who has been accused of killing an army officer over a traffic dispute, monitors said.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 1,000 people gathered in the city, an Assad stronghold, holding up pictures of Colonel Hassan al-Shaikh, who died after a traffic incident there last week.

The demonstrators called for the execution of Suleiman al-Assad, son of the president’s cousin Hilal, who was killed in battles with Islamist insurgents last year. They also chanted slogans in support of the president.

Details of what happened vary. But according to the Observatory and supporters of President Assad on social media, Suleiman al-Assad was angered when al-Shaikh, who was in a car with his family, overtook his vehicle in a Latakia street, and so shot him dead nearby shortly afterwards.

An image of the protests in Latakia posted on Twitter

Some Assad supporters said Suleiman’s bodyguard was the one who killed al-Shaikh.
In a video posted on social media, protesters chanted: “The people want the execution of Suleiman.”

There were no reports of clashes between protesters and police in Latakia. Syria’s state media did not report the protest, the traffic incident or the reported killing.

Latakia, Syria’s fifth largest city, has a large minority of Alawites – the branch of Shia Islam to which Assad belongs.

In Syria’s continuing civil war, Alawites, who make up roughly 10 percent of the country's 23 million population, have largely backed Assad against the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents.

But opposition activists say dissent has been growing within Assad’s Latakia regional heartland largely due to the high death toll of Alawite fighters and civilians – in the tens of thousands – in the conflict, as well as official corruption.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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