Saturday, July 23, 2011

Damascus residents staying home, fearful of police: Syria

Damascus residents troubled by intensified crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in the Syrian capital are now staying at home, hoarding money and bracing for violence.

“Nobody is shopping anymore or going to restaurants. Even the clubs are empty,” said a resident of the once-lively Old City, who gave her name as Nour. Residents told Reuters by telephone they were worried that the capital could slide into disorder, as in the central cities of Homs and Hama where protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic rule have been met with military crackdowns.

A Syrian journalist said the economy was stagnating, adding: “The price of vegetables, tea, sugar and cooking oil is rising.” The Hamidiyeh Souk, usually bustling with Syrians buying silks and tourists eating ice cream topped with pine nuts, is quiet. “We’ve cut our prices,” said Old City shopkeeper Yasser, 32. “But nobody is shopping and the tourists have all left.”

Until last Friday, Damascus had seen few of the anti-Assad demonstrations that have swept Syria since March, with only a few protests that were quickly dispersed by security forces.

But a week ago, thousands of Damascenes frustrated by the slow pace of reforms promised by Assad took to the streets. Security forces responded harshly, killing at least 23 people. That shifted the mood in the capital, where daily life had gone on as if untouched by four months of upheaval elsewhere. (more)