Dozens protest statue in defeated Syria cradle of uprising


Beirut (AFP)

Dozens of people demonstrated Sunday in the defeated cradle of Syria's uprising against a statue of the late father of the president being reinstated eight years after protesters demolished it.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces secured full control of Daraa from rebels in July, in a massive blow to the country's ill-fated revolt that erupted in the southern city.

"We protested in a number of streets... denouncing a statue of Hafez al-Assad being erected in the centre of Daraa," a protester told AFP.

"The statue was erected by regime supporters," said Mohammed, who did not give his second name to avoid reprisals.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, confirmed the protest had happened nearly eight years after the original statue was dragged down.

In March 2011, demonstrators tore down the statue of the father of the current president, prompting security forces to open fire.

Days after, some 300 bare-chested young men climbed on the rubble shouting anti-regime slogans.

Footage online of the Sunday protest showed a group of mostly men marching rapidly down a street lined with sand-coloured buildings.

They seemed to be accompanied by a throng of motorcycles, some carrying two people.

"Long live Syria, down with Bashar al-Assad," they shouted, almost eight years after the first protest of the popular uprising.

Rebels and their families started evacuating Daraa in July under a surrender deal brokered by regime ally Russia after weeks of ferocious bombardment.

Security forces have since returned to those areas but regime forces have not, including in Daraa al-Balad where the protest took place.

On Twitter, Syria's opposition chief praised the demonstrators' bravery.

"What can we say to those under the rule of iron and fire and who daringly and bravely step out raising the slogans of the first revolution," Nasr al-Hariri wrote.

"After years of torture, suffering, killing, displacement and destruction, Syria's spring is again blooming."

The war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years before he died in 2000 and was succeeded by his son.