A protester and a policeman have reportedly been killed during rare demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Sweida. Crowds angry because of the worsening economic conditions in Syria stormed the governor’s office.
Eyewitnesses say the protesters set fire to the building amid exchanges of gunfire in the Druze-majority city.
Earlier about 200 demonstrators were reportedly calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow. Syria is in the grip of a severe economic downturn.
This has led to spiralling prices and increasing anger towards President Assad’s regime in Sweida, which has avoided the worst violence of the Syrian war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that a police officer was killed when protesters tried to storm the police station.
A protester was shot dead when security forces opened fire after demonstrators entered the government building, SOHR chief Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.
“The governor’s office was burnt completely from the inside,” said Rayan Maarouf, a civic activist and editor of Suwayda 24, a local website that covers the region.
Several people were wounded in the exchange of gunshots, he told Reuters, adding it was unclear where the shooting came from. Syrian state media said “outlaws” had stormed the governor’s office and burned files and official papers.
The Turkey-based opposition Syria TV channel meanwhile reported that “hundreds” of protesters turned out to demonstrate against deteriorating living conditions, tearing up posters of the president inside and near the building, while calling for the “downfall of the regime”.
SOHR reported that “dozens” of demonstrators gathered in Sweida town centre “to protest against the deteriorating living conditions and the failure of the regime in providing basic services”.
It cited frequent power outages, water cuts, high fuel and food prices, and a breakdown in public security as reasons for the demonstration.
Syria has been at war since President Assad’s forces cracked down on pro-democracy protests in 2011. Hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been displaced. But Sweida province has been spared the violence seen in other parts of the country due to the Druze sect making efforts to avoid being drawn into the war, that pits mainly Sunni rebels against Assad’s rule.