Dubai: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad dismissed the governor of the flashpoint city of Hama on Saturday and dozens of Syrians have been arrested in a crackdown by security forces, reports said.
The sacking was seen as the latest attempt by Al Assad to weed out potential weak links in his ruling system and possibly signal a renewed crackdown on the city.
No reason for the firing of Governor Ahmad Abdul Aziz was given a day after an estimated 300,000 people joined an anti-government rally in Hama —marking the largest single turnout since the uprising began in March.
Activists were quoted as saying at least 41 people have been detained in Tasil town, in the southern city of Daraa, where security forces stormed houses and shops, in the northern province of Idlib and in the central city of Aleppo.
This is the third time Al Assad has sacked a governor since March. He has already replaced the governors of Daraa province and the western Homs.
Beirut-based activist Wissam Tarif said the governor ouster suggested that Al Assad is looking for scapegoats as the anti-government protests grow in strength. "He doesn't have the tools to suppress the protests.
For the [ruling] Baath party, they need to blame somebody," he said. Another Beirut-based activist, Omar Idibi, said the Hama governor had been respected by residents for trying to avoid further bloodshed. Idibi said he feared the governor's sacking would lead to security forces taking a more hardline stance with demonstrators.
Syrian forces withdrew from the city last month after clashes that left at least 65 dead. Some protest organisers now worry that the sacking of the governor could be the prelude for government troops to push back into the city — which carries important symbolism as a centre of resistance.
In 1982, Al Assad's late father, Hafez Al Assad, stormed the city to crush an uprising, leaving between 10,000 and 25,000 people dead, rights groups say.
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees in Turkey have paid homage to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by naming their newborns after him, Anatolia press agency said on Saturday.