AMMAN Protests against Baath Party rule erupted in Kurdish regions of eastern Syria on Friday, Kurdish activists said, a day after President Bashar al-Assad offered Syrian nationality to some Kurds. The grant of citizenship on Thursday to an unspecified number of Kurds is seen as part of a government attempt to cool resentment over nearly five decades of Baath Party rule and deflect pro-democracy protests.
"The citizenship gesture only helped fuel the street (protests). The Kurdish cause is one for democracy, freedom and cultural identity," Hassan Kamel, a senior member of the Democratic Kurdish Party in Syria, told Reuters.
Activists and witnesses said thousands of mostly young Kurds marched in the northeastern city of Qamishli on Friday chanting: "No Kurd, no Arab, the Syrian people are one."
"We salute the martyrs of Deraa," they also chanted in reference to the Arab Sunni city where protests erupted against Assad's rule three weeks ago before spreading across Syria.
The demonstrators also demanded freedom for thousands of political prisoners, many of them Kurds.
"Kurds are part of the Syrian people. They will not stop the struggle with their Arab brethren against the regime to lift emergency law for good. They will not be fooled by the so-called terrorism law in the making," said Massoud Akko, a Kurdish activist in exile in Norway.
Akko said the Kurdish street will not calm down until Syria as a whole enjoyed freedom of speech and assembly and the Baath Party monopoly of power was ended.
Protests also erupted in the towns of Amouda near Qamishli and in Derabasiyeh on the Turkish border, activists said.
Mohammad Ismail, a leading Kurdish figure, told Reuters from Qamishli that a meeting between President Bashar al-Assad and members of Kurdish tribes this week helped fuel the protests.
"The authorities are trying to reduce the Kurdish nation into a bunch of tribes. The response of the street is a resounding 'no'," said Ismail, pointing a slogan of the protests "tribes do not represent the Kurdish movement."
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Jon Hemming)