Syrian state lashes out as sanctions bite

Submitted by Matthew on 14 December, 2011 - 9:34

The Syrian police state is now responsible for over 4,000 deaths since the opposition movement emerged onto the streets in March.

This week, the regime staged local elections — part of a sham “reform” programme — with 17,000 candidates standing for 43,000 seats. State media reported voters were “flocking” to the polls. The on-the-ground opposition inside the country called for a boycott, and turn-out seems to have been poor.

On Sunday the opposition called an open-ended “Strike for Dignity” — the main effects being closure of small businesses and keeping children home from school. The strikers’ main demands are the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of the Syrian military from urban centres. In areas where the rebels are strong — in Homs, Deraa in the south, and northern areas close to the Turkish border — the strike seems strong.

The BBC quoted an activist in Homs as saying, “The [regime is] attacking five neighbourhoods with heavy artillery in Homs. Many houses are damaged. You ask me about the election? The polling stations are empty, the only people there are government supervisors, that's it.”

Al Jazeera noted that the regime was taking revenge on shopkeepers who were observing the strike, burning down scores of stores in Deraa.

On 27 November, the 22-country Arab League took an unprecedented decision to impose economic sanctions on a member. It voted to stop trading with the Syrian state in everything but essential goods, to ban Arab investments in Syria, to freeze assets held by senior members of the regime abroad, and to end dealings with Syria’s central bank.

The Banque Saudi Fransi, a Saudi bank, announced it is selling its 27% interest in one of Syria’s private banks.

Three days later Turkey, one of Syria’s biggest trading partners, said it would follow suit.

American and EU sanctions have also been imposed. A ban on oil imports, begun by America in August and the EU in September, is costing Syria $400m a month. The Syrian pound has fallen 25% against the dollar.

Foreign investment has halted. Tourism, which accounted for over 10% of GDP in 2010, has ended. International credit cards no longer work.

Economic sanctions are beginning to hurt. Most Syrians have no heat because mazoot (fuel oil) is scarce in most regions of Syria.

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