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Syrian President Bashar Assad HO/AP/Press Association Images via PA Images

Syria reverses ban on Islamic face veil

The President has also closed the country’s only casino. The moves have been seen as an attempt to reach out to conservative Muslims.

THE PRESIDENT OF Syria has reversed a ban on teachers wearing the Islamic veil, as well as closing the country’s only casino.

President Bashar Assad’s decisions have been seen as an attempt to reach out to conservative Muslims ahead of calls for pro-democracy demonstrations.

Syrian activists have called for  demonstrations on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to honor more than 80 people who were killed in a crackdown on protests that erupted nearly three weeks ago.

President Assad’s moves were unusual concessions to religious concerns in Syria, which promotes a strictly secular identity.

The recent protests, however, have brought sectarian tensions into the open as thousands of people took to the streets calling for democracy in a country where Alawites — a branch of Shiite Islam that represents just 11 percent of the population — have been in power for nearly 40 years. The country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Assad banned the niqab, the full Islamic face veil, in July as part of his campaign to mute sectarian differences.

Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred in June to administrative jobs, angering many conservative Muslims.

On Wednesday, Ali Saad, the education minister in the Syria’s caretaker government, said the teachers were now allowed to return to their jobs, according to the state-run news agency, SANA.

Also Wednesday, the Syrian state-run newspaper Tishrin reported that Casino Damascus has been closed because of  practices by the club’s owners that “violate laws and regulations.”

The recent unrest in Syria exploded nationwide three weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch called on Assad to order Syrian security forces to stop using “unjustified lethal force against anti-government protesters.”

- AP

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