3 Jul 2011

Syria's president sacks key governor

9:45 am on 3 July 2011

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sacked the governor of the city of Hama, which saw mass anti-government protests on Friday, state TV has reported.

It says Mr Assad signed a decree removing Ahmad Khaled Abdel Aziz.

The BBC reports that some of the biggest demonstrations yet against the rule of Mr Assad were held on Friday.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets nationwide, with human rights groups saying that at least 24 people had been killed by security forces.

Activists say more than 1350 civilians and 350 security personnel have been killed since protests began in mid-March.

Tens of thousands of people were said to have taken part in protests in Hama; protests were also reported in the capital, Damascus, the second city of Aleppo, Latakia and the flashpoint city of Homs.

Encouraged by the widening protests, prominent opposition figures plan to convene a "national salvation" conference in Damascus on 16 July to reach a broad-based blueprint for solving Syria's political crisis.

"In light of the military solution chosen by the regime to end the revolution," the organisers say, "the conference aims to reach a consensus guided by the popular protest movement for a transitional period and a national salvation government that lays the foundation for a new constitution and free elections."

The statement is signed by 50 figures, including Kurdish leader Mishaal al-Tammo, former judge Haitham al-Maleh and Nawaf al-Bashir, a tribal leader from the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.

With an intensifying security campaign under way, the organisers say the conference will be far more difficult to convene than a meeting of intellectuals allowed by the authorities last week that gave a rare platform to several opposition figures.

Authorities have banned most international media from operating in Syria since the outbreak of the protests in March, making it difficult to verify reports from activists and authorities.