Hundreds protest in southern Syrian city of Suweida
Protesters gathering for the fifth consecutive day in Suweida after authorities cut off 600,000 families from its subsidies programme, staged their biggest rally yet, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"We want a civil, just, democratic state," a young man told a cheering crowd of protesters in video footage broadcast by local media network Suwayda24.
The footage shows protesters raising the flag of the Druze, a religious minority whose heartland is Suweida.
In one video an elderly man in traditional Druze clothing lamented price hikes.
"We cannot live or get our rights, we don't have any gas or diesel," he told the crowd. "We want to live in a homeland that guarantees our dignity and our rights."
Earlier this month, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad excluded a large number of people from its subsidies programme in a country where 90 percent of the population is poor.
Those who were cut off lost access to subsidised food and oil, a move that triggered rare protests and criticism from within government-held areas of Syria.
Most protesters took to the streets for the first time in their lives to demand better living conditions, while others demanded democracy, Nour Radwan of Suwayda24 told AFP.
Smaller protests over similar issues were held in Suweida in 2020.
Syria has grappled with an economic crisis compounded by high-level regime corruption, the Covid-19 pandemic and a rapid devaluation of the local currency.
The Assad regime has also blamed western sanctions for the crisis.
Suweida has been mostly spared by the fighting in the decade-old Syrian conflict, and only faced sporadic militant attacks which were repelled.