DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted his government’s resignation on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of pro-democracy unrest that has posed the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule.
But the move was unlikely to satisfy protester demands since the cabinet has little authority in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.
Tens of thousands of Syrians held pro-government rallies on Tuesday, awaiting a speech in which Assad was expected to announce a decision on lifting emergency laws that have served to crush dissent for almost 50 years.
That is a key demand of anti-government demonstrations in which more than 60 people have been killed.
“President Assad accepts the government’s resignation,” the state news agency SANA said, adding that Naji al-Otari, the prime minister since 2003, would remain caretaker until a new government was formed.
Protesters at first had limited their demands to greater freedoms. But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown on them, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they now call for the “downfall of the regime.”
The calls echo those sounded during the uprisings buffeting the Arab world that, since January, have toppled veteran autocratic presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and also motivate rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Syrian state television showed people in the Syrian capital Damascus and in Aleppo, Hama and Hasaka waving the national flag, pictures of Assad and chanting “God, Syria, Bashar.”