Middle East

Syria: President Bashar al-Assad sacks governor of Hama

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC's Lina Sinjab on Friday's protests in Hama and other Syrian cities

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sacked the governor of the city of Hama, which saw mass anti-government protests on Friday, state TV has said.

It said Mr Assad had signed a decree removing Ahmad Khaled Abdel Aziz.

Friday saw some of the biggest demonstrations yet against the rule of Mr Assad.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets nationwide, with human rights groups saying that at least 24 people had been killed by security forces.

Activists say more than 1,350 civilians and 350 security personnel have been killed since protests began in mid-March.

Dissident conference

Tens of thousands of people were said to have taken part in protests in Hama on Friday.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said it was "the biggest demonstration since the Syrian Revolution broke out" on 15 March.

Image caption Some activists put the number of protesters nationwide on Friday at three million

One resident told BBC Arabic on Friday: "Hundreds of thousands are chanting 'Leave, leave, the people want the fall of the regime.' All of Hama is celebrating. There are people chanting from their windows and from the fronts of their homes. All of Hama is on the streets."

State television, in a newsflash on Saturday, said: "The Syrian president signed a decree today relieving Dr Ahmad Khaled Abdel Aziz of his post as governor of Hama."

Correspondents say there were reports the army had eased its presence in the city earlier in the week.

Hama was the scene of a Muslim Brotherhood uprising against Mr Assad's father, Hafez, in 1982, which the army crushed, killing at least 10,000 people.

Mr Assad had sacked the governor of the southern city of Deraa in March after days of protests there.

Protests were also reported on Friday in the capital, Damascus, the second city of Aleppo, Latakia and the flashpoint city of Homs.

Many of those reported killed were said to have died in north-western Idlib province, where there has been a heavy army crackdown on dissent.

Some activists put the number of protesters nationwide at three million.

The figures cannot be independently verified as the Syrian authorities have banned most foreign media from the country.

Speaking on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that time was running out for Syria's government to usher in reforms.

The renewed protests on Friday came despite the holding of a landmark dissident conference in Damascus last week.

It was the first time in almost four decades that dissidents had met in public without fear of arrest.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Beirut says that although the Syrian government has been allowing some dissidents to air their views, whatever the administration does, the protests keep on happening.