In an effort to appease protesters dissatisfied by his slow pace of reforms, the president of Syria Bashar al-Assad has appointed a new governor for the southern town of Deraa, the focal point of protests directed against the Baathist regime.
Assad, who is facing tremendous pressure for reform in a country that he and his father have ruled with an iron grip for almost a half-century appointed Mohammad Khaled al-Hannus governor of Deraa, replacing Faysal Kalthum, who was fired last month after dozens of demonstrators were killed by security forces in the city.
The governor’s residence had earlier been set ablaze as a protest against the state’s brutal crackdown on dissenters.
The former governor was also accused of stalling on the acquisition of property rights and stopping farmers from drilling irrigation wells.
However, as with other minor measures Assad has recently undertaken – including asking the former minister of agriculture Adel Safar to form a new cabinet -- the new appointment was dismissed by activists as insufficient.
The residents of Deraa want more than a switch in governor - they want the security services to stop oppressing them, the emergency law lifted, property rights respected, the detained freed and freedom of expression guaranteed, a human rights activist told Agence France Presse.
Human rights organizations estimate that more than 130 people have been killed in the unrest in Syria, primarily in Deraa and Latakia.
Meanwhile, anti-government groups are calling for more protests.
An organization that formed through Facebook is planning a Week of the Martyrs protest to honor all those who have died in the unrest. They are also calling for a boycott on cellphone companies and a rally outside the headquarters of the ruling Baath party in Damascus, the capitol.
The U.S. government over the week authorized the voluntary departure of all State Department employees and their families from Syria.
U.S. citizens in Syria should closely examine their security situation in light of [recent violence] and other recent developments and consider departing Syria, the US State Department warned.